Republicans say torture led U.S. to bin Laden. Facts say otherwise.

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 02-05-2011-05-2008


You could see this one coming a mile off. Here’s Dick Cheney on Fox News: “I would assume the enhanced interrogation program we put in place produced some of the results that led to bin Laden’s ultimate capture…. We need to keep in place those policies that made it possible for us to succeed in this case.”

Here’s an AP story reiterating the same.

Current and former U.S. officials say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, provided the nom de guerre of one of bin Laden’s most trusted aides. The CIA got similar information from Mohammed’s successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Both were subjected to harsh interrogation tactics inside CIA prisons in Poland and Romania.

Or how about the Heritage Foundation screaming “Detainee Interrogations: Key to Killing Osama bin Laden”: “This lead was developed during the Bush Administration, most likely from al-Qaeda associates picked up and transferred to Guantanamo and subject to interrogations that critics have repeatedly deemed to be pointless in terms of intelligence value. Whether these detainees remain at Guantanamo is an open question.” See, if Bush and Cheney hadn’t been man enough to torture people, we never would have found bin Laden. Nine years later.

There’s plenty more where that came from:

  • Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tweeted, “Wonder what President Obama thinks of water boarding now?”
  • Karl Rove said on Fox & Friends this morning: “I think the tools that President Bush put into place—GITMO, rendition, enhanced interrogation, the vast effort to collect and collate this information — obviously served his successor quite well.”
  • Bush torture architect John Yoo says “Without the tough decisions taken by President Bush and his national security team, the United States could not have found and killed bin Laden. It is the continuity of policies in the war on terror that has brought success, not the misguided effort of the last two years to disavow them.”

Let’s revisit history, again, by going to the best source, Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel. The waterboarding of KSM, all 183 instances, occurred in March, 2003. The torture of al Libi happened in early 2002, after his November, 2001 capture.

As Marcy explained in an e-mail:

Assuming they got the courier’s name in 2005 or 2006, per reports, it happened 2 years or more after KSM’s waterboarding.

Which would say KSM withheld this information under waterboarding.

And given how much time it took to actually get from the courier to the compound (presumably about 4 years), both KSM and al-Libi didn’t give all that much on the courier(s).

KSML was waterboarded 183 times, presumably without revealing the name of the courier. And, since it took 183 tries, the efficacy of the whole enterprise can only be questioned. [Update: The following applies to Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, not to Abu Faraj al-Libi, who is sourced in the AP story. The lesson about the effectiveness of torture remains unchanged, but the timeline for Abu Faraj al-Libi is slightly different. See emptywheel for more on that.] But what the torture of al Libi “revealed” is even more damning for the pro-torturers’s case.

Having slipped off the radar, the government clearly does not want his case revived, not only because it may have to explain what has happened to him, but also because, as a result of the application of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” al-Libi claimed that Saddam Hussein had offered to train two al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons.

Al-Libi’s “confession” led to President Bush declaring, in October 2002, “Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases,” and his claims were, notoriously, included in Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003. The claims were of course, groundless, and were recanted by al-Libi in January 2004, but it took Dan Cloonan, a veteran FBI interrogator, who was resolutely opposed to the use of torture, to explain why they should never have been believed in the first place. Cloonan told Jane Mayer, “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq… The reason they got bad information is that they beat it out of him. You never get good information from someone that way.”

What torture got us, in practical terms, was the Iraq debacle. And the complete and well-deserved debasement of our international standing. And a hell of a lot more anti-American terrorists.

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