One Book Defending Waterboarding Doesn't Change The Fact That Torture Doesn't Work

Blog ››› ››› MIKE BURNS

In a book published Monday, Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's Clandestine Service during the Bush administration, defends the use of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) such as waterboarding, a technique that groups such as Amnesty International have called "torture." Rodriguez claimed that EITs "led to the capture and killing of Usama bin Ladin." However, multiple experts, including a CIA interrogator, an FBI counterintelligence expert, a former CIA inspector general, and the chairs of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, have said that these techniques were not effective or did not lead to the strike against bin Laden.

In his book, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, Rodriguez is careful to explain the he "never said that the EITs were the immediate cause, or that they instantly led us to UBL" and that he "never suggested that the EITS would be a panacea." But the way he sees it, without EITs "we might never have started on the long march that eventually allowed CIA analysts to come to the conclusion that UBL was probably holed up in Abbottabad."

According to Rodriguez, part of this "long march" was gathering intelligence on bin Laden's courier, which ultimately led to bin Laden's location and his death. According to Rodriguez, the process started after terrorism detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) (who "reached the compliant stage" after being subjected to sleep deprivation) received EITs. He writes:

The courier exercised excellent tradecraft, maintaining a low profile and generally avoiding using methods of communication that might trip him up. Then, sometime after I left the CIA, he made a mistake. He slipped and did something that allowed U.S. intelligence to find him. From there, using great patience and skill, CIA officers eventually were able to trace him to the compound in Abbottabad and assemble the intelligence case that led to the successful raid on May 2, 2011. It all started with information a detainee provided after receiving EITs bolstered by information that KSM and Abu Faraj al-Libi (who both became compliant after receiving EITs) gave us, whether they meant to or not.

One can hear the same argument Rodriguez is making on Fox News and other conservative media outlets, which have touted bin Laden's death as a victory for EITs and President Bush. But it's an argument rebutted by many experts, who dispute whether the use of EITs yielded critical intelligence that led to bin Laden.

Four Former Interrogators And Intelligence Officials: "Torture Did Not Lead The U.S To Bin Laden."

In a May 4, 2011, statement, four former interrogators and intelligence officials wrote that "torture did not lead the U.S. to bin Laden." The officials were pseudonymous U.S. Air Force interrogator Matthew Alexander, who led the team of interrogators that located Al Qaeda in Iraq head Abu Musab al Zarqawi; U.S. Army Col. Stuart A. Herrington (ret), who served 30 years as an Army intelligence officer; FBI counterintelligence expert Joe Navarro; and Ken Robinson, a member of the U.S. Military Intelligence Hall of Fame. They wrote:

The use of waterboarding and other so-called "enhanced" interrogation techniques almost certainly prolonged the hunt for Bin Laden and complicated the jobs of professional U.S. interrogators who were trying to develop useful information from unwilling sources like Khalid Sheik Muhammed.

Reports say that Khalid Sheik Muhammed and Abu Faraq al-Libi did not divulge the nom de guerre of a courier during torture, but rather several months later, when they were questioned by interrogators who did not use abusive techniques.


We believe that the U.S. would have learned more from Khalid Sheik Muhammed and other high value detainees if, from the beginning, professional interrogators had a chance to question them using the sophisticated, yet humane, approaches approved by U.S. law.

We are convinced that the record shows that abusive questioning techniques did not help, but only hindered, the United States' efforts to find bin Laden.

Alexander has similarly said, "I think without a doubt, torture and enhanced interrogation techniques slowed down the hunt for bin Laden."

Chairs Of The Senate Intelligence And Armed Services Committees: Rodriguez's Statements On The Role Of CIA Interrogation Programs In Finding Bin Laden "Are Inconsistent With CIA Records."

Moreover, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is expected to soon release a report showing that EITS were not effective in helping locate terror suspects. According to Agence France-Presse, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said that "statements by Rodriguez and others about the role the CIA interrogation program had in locating Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a US military raid in Pakistan one year ago, 'are inconsistent with CIA records.' " Feinstein and Levin also said that information on bin Laden's courier, which ultimately led to bin Laden's whereabouts, "had no connection to CIA detainees," and that it instead came from "a variety of classified sources."

Former CIA Interrogator Carle: Coercive Interrogation Techniques "Didn't Provide Useful, Meaningful, Trustworthy Information."

As reported by The New York Times in 2011, Glenn L. Carle, a retired C.I.A. officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002, said that coercive techniques "didn't provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information." The Times reported that Carle "said that while some of his colleagues defended the measures, 'everyone was deeply concerned and most felt it was un-American and did not work.' "

National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor: "If We Had Some Kind Of Smoking-Gun Intelligence From Waterboarding In 2003, We Would Have Taken Out Osama Bin Laden In 2003."

The Times also reported that Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, dismissed the efficacy of torture in developing intel on bin Laden, saying, "The bottom line is this: If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003," and adding: "It took years of collection and analysis from many different sources to develop the case that enabled us to identify this compound, and reach a judgment that Bin Laden was likely to be living there."

Former CIA Inspector General: "You Could Not In Good Conscience Reach A Definitive Conclusion About ... [Whether] The Enhanced Techniques ... Really Worked."

Former CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson found that "you could not in good conscience reach a definitive conclusion about whether any specific technique was especially effective, or [whether] the enhanced techniques in the aggregate really worked."

Deputy National Security Adviser Brennan: "To My Knowledge" Enhanced Interrogations Did Not Yield Intelligence Integral To Finding Bin Laden.

In an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said that intelligence integral in finding bin Laden was not obtained by waterboarding "to my knowledge."

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National Security & Foreign Policy
Jose Rodriguez
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