While it has been known for well over a year that a study conducted by the Senate intelligence committee into CIA’s use of torture would conclude that torture had not provided information, which ultimately led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, there is now further confirmation.
The Associated Press acknowledges that the “most high-profile detainee linked to the bin Laden investigation was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom the CIA waterboarded 183 times.” He apparently knew ”an important al-Qaeda courier with the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” However, “The report concludes that such information wasn’t critical.”
“Mohammed only discussed al-Kuwaiti months after being waterboarded, while he was under standard interrogation, they said. And Mohammed neither acknowledged al-Kuwaiti’s significance nor provided interrogators with the courier’s real name,” according to AP.
Significantly, as senators push to have at least parts of the completed study declassified (particularly what senators found in their investigation), the CIA refuses to accept that torture did not help the country hunt down bin Laden.
“Former Bush administration and some senior CIA officials have cited the evidence trail leading to the al-Qaeda mastermind’s compound in Pakistan as vindicating the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ they authorized after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,” the AP notes.
The CIA still contends that senior al-Qaeda operative Abu Faraj al-Libi, “who was captured in 2005 and held at a secret prison,” provided valuable information. Unnamed officials that benefit from this report remaining classified described “how al-Libi made up a name for a trusted courier and denied knowing al-Kuwaiti. Al-Libi, they said, was so adamant and unbelievable in his denial that the CIA took it as confirmation he and Mohammed were protecting the courier.”
This 6,300-page report prepared by the Senate, however, “concludes evidence gathered from al-Libi wasn’t significant.”
For former government officials who have defended torture techniques, this report poses a key threat to their ability to continue to appear on cable news programs, pen editorials for newspapers and participate in speaking engagements where they can claim torture played an effective role in leading the US to bin Laden and helped keep the country safe.
This key talking point makes it possible to convince audiences and hosts of news programs to ignore the unmistakable fact that the interrogation techniques authorized were torture and should not be used on any human being. If it is lost, they will only have their disingenuous fear and crude ideology to aid them when confronted over their role in the CIA’s rendition, detention and torture program.
Former vice president Dick Cheney said on “The Charlie Rose Show” on February 13, 2013, “KSM was more than anybody else [subjected] to enhanced interrogation techniques and more than anybody else provided us with key pieces of intelligence that we needed in order to defend the nation against al Qaeda.”
On January 29, 2013, Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA Counterterrorism Center head who authorized the destruction of videotapes of interrogations, “It’s a ridiculous assertion when a report says that enhanced interrogation program had no value or produced nothing. Frankly it’s disturbing. Because in my view it is an attempt to rewrite history. The narrative of this administration is that the enhanced interrogation program was torture and nothing came out of it, but in fact we were able to destroy al Qaeda because of it.”
Rodriguez used appearances on television, where he was promoting his book, Hard Measures, to defend President George W. Bush’s administration and the use of torture techniques on terrorism suspects. He also, like other former officials, benefited from the release of the film, Zero Dark Thirty, depicting the hunt for bin Laden because it garnered him invitations to speak about how he believed intelligence from torture had led to bin Laden’s execution.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden has maintained that, “as late as 2006, even with the growing success of other intelligence tools, fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from those interrogations.” On February 23, 2013, on Fareed Zakaria’s program on CNN, he said, “Part of that fabric in the hunt for bin Laden came from detainees against whom enhanced interrogation techniques have been used.”
John Rizzo, a former top CIA lawyer who oversaw whether torture techniques used on captives were “legal,” also during this same month, “This program was carried out, was originally carried out, evolved over the years, was refined, produced thousands of intelligence reports and was conducted, mind you, all those years, by career CIA officers, non-political public servants.”
“To say – to make a blanket statement that nothing of any value ever came out of these techniques, I just think beggars the imagination. I just don’t buy that.”
In his book, Decision Points, former President George W. Bush wrote that the intelligence from Mohammed “proved vital to saving American lives” and “almost certainly would not have come to light without the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program.” He also claimed, “Experts in the intelligence community told me that without the CIA program, there would have been another attack on the United States.
“The CIA interrogation program saved lives. Had we captured more al Qaeda operatives with significant intelligence value, I would have used the program for them as well.”
Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey argued in the Wall Street Journal on May 6, 2011, just after the raid on bin Laden’s compound, “Consider how the intelligence that led to bin Laden came to hand. It began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.”
“Another of those gathered up later in this harvest, Abu Faraj al-Libi, also was subjected to certain of these harsh techniques and disclosed further details about bin Laden’s couriers that helped in last weekend’s achievement.”
Former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo, who authored a key memo authorizing torture, used the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 to argue torture had made Obama’s “greatest national security victory” possible “by identifying Osama bin Laden’s couriers and following them to his location.”
Even former Pentagon chief and former CIA director Leon Panetta said on NBC’s Meet the Press that some of the information used to get bin Laden had come from “interrogation tactics.” Yet, he added, “I think we could have gotten Bin Laden without that.”
This detail, whether torture led to bin Laden, is critical to the CIA not only because those involved in carrying out torture want to believe they made a meaningful contribution to the “war on terrorism” but because the CIA may want to get back into the interrogation business some day. (In fact, the reporting of Jeremy Scahill in Somalia shows it may now just be using proxy forces and still may be employing what they like to call “harsh interrogations.”)
The CIA did not want to end the program when Obama was elected president. Hayden argued that abuses in the program had been “curbed” in 2006.
The agency recognizes that it is killing an awful lot of people with drones that they could capture and interrogate if the Obama administration had not played such a role in placing constraints on the CIA when the president was first elected.
For years, former Bush administration officials or former intelligence officials have enjoyed impunity and benefited from secrecy around the use of torture. They may have been among a dwindling group of individuals willing to publicly defend torture, but they have astutely taken advantage of the news media’s commitment to “balance” and gladly accepted invitations to go on television and wax about the value of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
A cadre of people who have been shown respect by numerous institutions in America face the possibility of their legacy being permanently tainted by this report. These are people who want more Hollywood productions like Zero Dark Thirty, no more declassified information on torture.
The pressure is on at the CIA to remain loyal to current and former officials and keep fighting the Senate over what is in the report, especially because it will make it possible to argue the Senate had political motives in producing the study. They ignored what the CIA was trying to have included, since some Democrats and Republicans long ago decided to heavily criticize the use of torture techniques.
That may be the biggest scandal in all of this. The public will soon get a glimpse at some parts of the report. But, shamefully, there will always be slots on Sunday morning news programs for these miscreants, who managed to make whether waterboarding was torture debatable, who have been able to use fear of terrorism as cover for their actions and who will never be properly held accountable for what they did.