Does Torture Work?

I take issue with Colin Woodard’s one-sided conclusion in “Why We Won’t Give Up Torture” [Autumn 2011]—that it does not work. Discussing torture used in the war on terrorism, he cites only one source, CIA officer Glenn L. Carle, who says that it “didn’t provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information.” On the contrary, ex-CIA director George Tenet said the “enhanced interrogation” program alone yielded more information about terrorists and their attack plans than everything gained from “the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency put together.” Two former Bush officials—Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Michael Hayden, Tenet’s successor at the CIA—have concluded that “as late as 2006…fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al-Qaeda came from those interrogations.”

Even Dennis Blair, President Obama’s first director of National Intelligence, stated that these interrogations yielded “high value information.”

Nicholas O’Dell

Phoenixville, Pa.

The topic of torture cannot be intelligently discussed without addressing the exponential escalation of abuses in prison systems, dating back to isolation in Pennsylvania’s first penitentiaries in the early 1800s, flowing through industrial-era dungeons like Sing Sing and Alcatraz and the neo-Confederate prison farm system (which operated as an unabated extension of black slavery), and culminating in the embrace of supermax prisons and the Stalinesque use of mass incarceration in contemporary America. As for Europe, see also Devil’s Island and Newgate.

Every type of physical and moral abuse rightly decried as torture was practiced, and continues to be practiced, in the domestic context in these institutions. Whatever happened on the battlefield, there was never any substantial interruption of torture as an instrument of government control in the prison context.

Gabriel Daniel Martin Ciociola

Boston, Mass.

More Guerrilla Heroes

As I read the fascinating Autumn 2011 article “Up From the Swamp,” by Jefferson M. Gray, and the accompanying sidebar about famous American guerrilla forces, I was struck by one omission— Castner’s Cutthroats. This irregular unit of Alaska Scouts fought in the Aleutian Campaign of World War II and was a significant factor in long-range reconnaissance in the little known Battle of Attu. Their story has always stuck with me.

Barry Rosenbush

Redondo Beach, Calif.

Defending Forrest, Mosby, et al

I’m disappointed in your Autumn 2011 War List, “Five Overrated Officers in the American Civil War,” by Gary W. Gallagher. No criteria are provided as a basis for inclusion in this list of officers, who range from a colonel to a general. So why these five? To say they are overrated seems just random speculative opinion.

More than a few authorities cite the defense of Little Round Top as the key to Union victory at Gettysburg, which many believe was the decisive battle of the war. It seems presumptive to declare the leader of that defense, then-Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, as “overrated” since few officers ever get offered such an opportunity for distinction.

Certainly making Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest number one on your list is politically correct, given his postwar leadership of the Ku Klux Klan.

But overrated as an army officer? He did everything asked of him during the war. His admirers included William T. Sherman and Robert E. Lee as well as Field Marshal Sir Garnet Wolseley. Sure, his temperament made him challenging. The same could be said about George Patton and Bernard Montgomery.

John C. Wilson

Seattle, Wash.

Professor Gallagher is dead wrong to call John Mosby overrated. Without Mosby, Jeb Stuart might well have met defeat (or been killed or captured) at Brandy Station, and Robert E. Lee would have lost his cavalry. Mosby’s presence around Washington kept 6,100 Union cavalry in that area to prevent his “depredations” (Major General Joseph Hooker’s words). Mosby at the time had about 39 men.

The criteria for judging the effectiveness of a commander have to be understood in consideration of the outcome of the war. Because the Confederacy lost, Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, James Longstreet, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and all the rest were no more “effective” than Mosby. Yet of all the men under Lee’s command, the one to whom he gave the most praise in his papers was John Mosby!

Valerie Protopapas

Huntington Station, N.Y.

Ms. Protopapas is editor of The Southern Cavalry Review, the newsletter of the Stuart-Mosby Historical Society.

Professor Gallagher has provided incisive analysis as usual; he’s spot on. To the legion of “offended” readers, the best advice comes from another top historian: “Don’t fall in love with dead people.”

Albert Mackey

Mechanicsburg, Pa.


In the Autumn 2011 feature “A Deeper Level of Hell,” a caption on page 100 incorrectly identified tanks as American. They are Japanese Type 89B medium tanks of the 7th Armored Regiment. The star on the tanks was a mark signifying the Regiment’s 1st Company, which had served with the Imperial Army’s 1st Special Tank Company in Manchuria.


Originally published in the Winter 2012 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.