Jonah, your reader has it exactly right. By releasing to the Justice Department memos detailing our enhanced-interrogation techniques, we have given the enemy the information they need to resist.
In Courting Disaster, I recount the story of one senior al-Qaeda terrorist who was captured in 2007 and brought into the CIA program. The program had been dramatically curtailed at that point, and waterboarding was no longer being used. But he was terrified nonetheless. And when he was informed that he was in the hands of the CIA, he told his interrogators: “I’ve heard of you. I’ll tell you anything you want to know.” And he did. No enhanced techniques. He just spilled his guts. Just the existence of the program — and the uncertainty of what would happen to him — was enough to break this high-ranking terrorist.
Today, that would no longer work. Thanks to Obama, the terrorists know they have nothing to fear — and thus have no incentive to talk. And even if they did face some enhanced techniques, the techniques would no longer work — because the terrorist would know from the memos that there are limits to what they would face. The effect of the techniques is psychological, not physical. They trick the terrorists into thinking what they are enduring is worse than it really is.
It’s like the show Magic’s Biggest Secrets Revealed — once you know how the magician saws the woman in half, you’re not fooled. The same goes for enhanced interrogation.