More Fox figures pick up tenuous claim that harsh interrogations thwarted L.A. plot

››› ››› ANDREW WALZER

Neil Cavuto, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Catherine Herridge joined other Fox News figures in advancing Marc Thiessen's claim that the use of harsh interrogations techniques on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed "stopped an attack on the Library Tower." But the Bush administration has said that the attack was thwarted more than a year before Mohammed was captured.

On April 22, Fox News hosts Neil Cavuto, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity, and Fox News homeland security correspondent Catherine Herridge joined several other Fox News hosts and contributors in advancing former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen's claim that the use of harsh interrogation techniques -- including waterboarding -- on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) "stopped an attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles." However, the claim conflicts with the chronology of events put forth on multiple occasions by the Bush administration, as Slate.com's Timothy Noah has noted. Indeed, the Bush administration said that the Library Tower attack was thwarted in February 2002 -- more than a year before Mohammed was captured in March 2003.

On the April 17 edition of Fox News' The Live Desk, Thiessen asserted that the Bush administration's "program" of harsh interrogation "stopped an attack on the Library Towers in Los Angeles," and later added: "The interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed ... led to the capture of a cell of Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists who were planning to hijack a plane and fly it into the Library Tower in Los Angeles. And if it had not been for this program, there would be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York City." Thiessen further detailed these claims in an April 21 Washington Post op-ed.

However, as Noah noted in response to Thiessen's op-ed, the "chronology" of events presented by the Bush administration contradicts the claim that the harsh interrogation of Mohammed was responsible for thwarting the Library Tower plot. Noah explained:

What clinches the falsity of Thiessen's claim, however (and that of the memo he cites, and that of an unnamed Central Intelligence Agency spokesman who today seconded Thessen's argument), is chronology. In a White House press briefing, Bush's counterterrorism chief, Frances Fragos Townsend, told reporters that the cell leader was arrested in February 2002, and "at that point, the other members of the cell" (later arrested) "believed that the West Coast plot has been canceled, was not going forward" [italics mine]. A subsequent fact sheet released by the Bush White House states, "In 2002, we broke up [italics mine] a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast." These two statements make clear that however far the plot to attack the Library Tower ever got -- an unnamed senior FBI official would later tell the Los Angeles Times that Bush's characterization of it as a "disrupted plot" was "ludicrous" -- that plot was foiled in 2002. But Sheikh Mohammed wasn't captured until March 2003.

How could Sheikh Mohammed's water-boarded confession have prevented the Library Tower attack if the Bush administration "broke up" that attack during the previous year? It couldn't, of course. Conceivably the Bush administration, or at least parts of the Bush administration, didn't realize until Sheikh Mohammed confessed under torture that it had already broken up a plot to blow up the Library Tower about which it knew nothing. Stranger things have happened. But the plot was already a dead letter. If foiling the Library Tower plot was the reason to water-board Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, then that water-boarding was more than cruel and unjust. It was a waste of water.

In addition to the senior FBI official Noah mentioned, several other U.S. counterterrorism officials also reportedly expressed doubts that the Library Tower plot ever advanced beyond the initial planning stages and ever posed a serious threat, as Media Matters for America documented in February 2006.

Joining Fox News contributor Mort Kondracke and Fox & Friends co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy, the following Fox News hosts and contributors advanced Thiessen's claim that the use of harsh interrogation techniques on Mohammed yielded information intelligence officials used to foil the Library Tower plot:

  • On the April 22 edition of Your World, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said: "[L]ook, we have a document right here, a story that came out yesterday, about how this -- this waterboarding of Shaikh -- Khalid Shaikh Mohammed actually gave us the information to thwart a terrorist plot that was under way that would have resulted in planes flying into buildings, 9-11-style, in Los Angeles. We saved thousands of lives." Cavuto responded: "And waterboarding stopped it."
  • During the April 22 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck, Beck said, "Let's not forget that even after deciding that waterboard was legal, they only did it to three high-value suspects -- one, whose information actually helped stop a massive airline attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles."
  • As Media Matters noted, on the April 22 edition of his show, Hannity said, "Here we discover that these enhanced interrogation techniques -- all right -- that they save lives, that we saved an American city, Los Angeles. You have a lot of friends. You've been in a lot of movies. I've seen your movies. And it saved lives." Hannity then repeated the claim three more times during the show's "Great American Panel" segment, including alleging at one point that upon being subjected to these techniques, "Khalid Shaikh Mohammed gave up that there was a terror cell in this country, that the city of Los Angeles was about to be hit in a second-wave attack."

Additionally, during a report on the April 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Herridge said, "U.S. officials are also standing behind claims made in this Justice Department memo of May 2005 that the program uncovered another KSM plot, the second wave to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into Los Angeles." Herridge did not mention that the Bush administration said that the plot had been thwarted a year before Mohammed was captured.

From the April 22 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:

CAVUTO: All right. Well, good luck coming out of your shell, Congressman. It does appear to be working. Look --

ROHRABACHER: Well, let me just -- can I say one thing before you go?

CAVUTO: Go ahead, please, real quickly.

ROHRABACHER: Look -- look -- look, we have a document right here, a story that came out yesterday, about how this -- this waterboarding of Shaikh -- Khalid Shaikh Mohammed actually gave us the information to thwart a terrorist plot that was under way that would have resulted in planes flying into buildings, 9-11-style, in Los Angeles. We saved thousands of lives --

CAVUTO: And waterboarding stopped it.

ROHRABACHER: -- in southern --

CAVUTO: All right.

ROHRABACHER: And waterboarding stopped it.

CAVUTO: Congressman, thank you very, very much.

From the April 22 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: Back in September 2002, the CIA demonstrated waterboarding and some other harsh techniques to a bipartisan group of politicians. Who was there? Oh, nobody except -- oh, the current speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Yeah, she was there.

We didn't see a single one of these weasels in Washington, anyone in Congress go on the record after 9-11 when these decisions were being made and saying, "I don't care if we vaporize the entire city of New York, I am opposed to torture and will not do it under any circumstance." No, they didn't. You know why? Because you didn't care at the time how we got the information. I didn't care either. We said, "Keep our cities safe."

In fact, some of the most outspoken people on the issue -- like John McCain, suspiciously a Republican -- didn't make a peep about waterboarding until 2004, 2005. Even worse, none of the lawmakers bothered to clarify the torture statute. Oh, they could do -- they could do that. Yeah, all they have to do -- and I know it's very complicated to write legalese, you know, things like, "waterboarding is torture."

But, now, these people, they were too spineless to define it, they want to go back in time and punish the Bush administration for making agonizing decisions and complex legal interpretations in a time of war. Let's not forget that even after deciding that waterboard was legal, they only did it to three high-value suspects -- one, whose information actually helped stop a massive airline attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles.

From the April 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

[begin video clip]

HERRIDGE: The Justice Department memos released last week as well as the Bush administration's speech and documents released when the 14 high-value detainees were transferred from the CIA secret prisons to Guantánamo Bay provide a snapshot of the intelligence U.S. officials claim was gleaned from the enhanced interrogation program.

Abu Zubaydah was the first big catch. Captured March 2002 in Faisalabad, Pakistan, Zubaydah ran Osama bin Laden's training camps, where at least three of the hijackers prepared for the 9-11 strikes.

According to U.S. officials, Zubaydah -- one of three operatives to be waterboarded -- provided the most valuable information after the enhanced interrogation techniques were applied, information they say that led to the 2002 capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Karachi, Pakistan.

Bin al-Shibh was part of the Hamburg cell, where the 9-11 hijackers, including Mohamed Atta, finalized their plans. And according to these documents, released when bin al-Shibh was transferred to Guantánamo Bay, he was a lead operative in a post 9-11 plot to hijack aircraft and crash them into Heathrow Airport.

Bin al-Shibh was also subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, and in March 2003, information gleaned from him and Zubaydah led to the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Once in custody, U.S. officials say, those same techniques prompted KSM to provide information that eventually led to the operative behind this attack on a Bali nightclub a year earlier, which killed or injured 400. Hambali [Riduan Isamuddin] was the leader of Al Qaeda's Southeast Asia affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah.

U.S. officials are also standing behind claims made in this Justice Department memo of May 2005 that the program uncovered another KSM plot, the second wave to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into Los Angeles.

Some U.S. officials denied that the techniques yielded any useful information, and a lawyer for the 9-11 conspirators is angry that any evidence about whether the methods were effective is gone.

EDWARD MacMAHON JR (defense attorney): There once were tapes of this stuff which the CIA elected to destroy, which could have answered a lot of these questions.

[end video clip]

HERRIDGE: Former CIA Director Michael Hayden told me before he left the agency that 60 percent of what the U.S. intelligence community knew in the first five years after 9-11 about Al Qaeda's leadership, its structure, and its operations came from the enhanced interrogation program. It now seems clear that this claim will be put to the test through a series of probes -- Bret.

From the April 22 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: Let me ask you a serious question -- and then you can mess around all you want. Here we discover that these enhanced interrogation techniques -- all right -- that they save lives, that we saved an American city, Los Angeles. You have a lot of friends. You've been in a lot of movies. I've seen your movies. And it saved lives.

Are you against that? Do you think that's a good thing?

[...]

HANNITY: All right. Let's start with interrogation. All right, now, first of all, the Obama administration is talking about prosecuting people that were involved in the legal decision that this was acceptable behavior.

We've learned a couple of things: It has saved America. We found terror cells in America. We had 6,000 terrorist reports. We saved the city of Los Angeles from getting hit.

Why -- you are against -- you're against enhanced interrogations. Why?

CAROLINE HELDMAN (Occidental College assistant politics professor): Well waterboarding is torture. High-ranking public officials from the Bush administration have come out and said that -- Armitage, as well as others. And secondly --

HANNITY: Armitage has no credibility, in my view. Richard Armitage, who sat back there, knowing that he was the leaker in the Valerie Plame case, and he didn't have the moral courage to come forward.

HELDMAN: Well, that's -- that's an ad hominem attack, Sean.

HANNITY: I don't really care anything about Richard Armitage.

HELDMAN: But the fact of the matter is waterboarding is torture. It is not simulated --

HANNITY: According to you.

HELDMAN: It's not simulated drowning. According to me and lots of research and many experts on the topic, it doesn't simulate drowning. It is slow drowning that is controlled --

HANNITY: It's not drown -- it's not drowning.

HELDMAN: It causes your bodily organs to shut down, Sean.

HANNITY: It makes it -- Khalid --

HELDMAN: It's torture.

HANNITY: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed gave up that there was a terror cell in this country, that the city of Los Angeles was about to be hit in a second-wave attack, Ralph.

RALPH REED (Republican strategist): Sean, it's not -- it's not torture when the duration is no more than 20 to 40 seconds --

HANNITY: Right.

REED: -- which is what the memos indicate. In fact, I urge every one of your viewers to go online and read these memos.

We're talking about 20 to 40 seconds that they were underwater. We're talking about three detainees only out of the 250 most hardened that are at Abu Ghraib.

HELDMAN: So they only tortured three?

REED: No. And we're talking about the fact that medical personnel was on hand to make sure that there was no physical or bodily harm. Now, folks, I don't care what your definition of torture is. That's not what the North Vietnamese did to our servicemen and women. That's not what the Koreans did.

HANNITY: Ask John McCain.

REED: That's exactly right.

HANNITY: Yeah. Ask Daniel Pearl.

REED: They broke bones.

HANNITY: Ask his wife.

REED: They didn't give them medical treatment. That's torture.

HELDMAN: John McCain --

REED: This was enhanced interrogation --

HELDMAN: John McCain would be opposed to waterboarding.

REED: -- that saved American lives, which Dennis Blair, the director of --

HANNITY: All right. So --

REED: -- National Intelligence under Obama, says -- told us about Al Qaeda.

HANNITY: If we -- if we follow what you're saying, then that means the city of Los Angeles may have been hit. That means this terror cell may have --

HELDMAN: Sean, I disagree with your --

HANNITY: No, no, no, no, no, no. It's not an assumption.

HELDMAN: -- assumptions that we couldn't have gotten this information from other --

HANNITY: Hang on a second.

HELDMAN: You have no evidence that we couldn't have gotten this --

HANNITY: How would you -- well, if you read the report --

HELDMAN: -- information from other interrogation techniques.

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