Since Osama bin Laden was killed in a successful U.S. raid last week, right-wing media have been hyping the Bush administration's use of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) and claim that key info about bin Laden was found by using EITs on detainees. In fact, many experts have questioned this claim, arguing that valuable intelligence has been and could have been gained more easily using other methods; additionally, there is considerable dispute as to whether the use of EITs yielded critical intelligence which led to bin Laden.
Right-Wing Media Hype Bush Admin. Officials' Claims About EITs
Wallace: “Enhanced Interrogation” Was “Such A Key Part Of This Raid.” On the May 8 edition of Fox News' Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, “Why is shooting an unarmed man in the face legal and proper, while enhanced interrogation, including waterboarding, of a detainee under very strict controls and limits, why is that over the line?” He later said that this “interrogation” was “such a key part of this raid [that killed Osama bin Laden].” From the broadcast:
WALLACE: We'll stipulate - I think, we'll all stipulate that bin Laden was a monster. But why is shooting an unarmed man in the face legal and proper, while enhanced interrogation, including waterboarding, of a detainee under very strict controls and limits, why is that over the line?
DONILON: Well, let's get -- let me talk first about the first half of the statement you made. Again, the president met with the operators yesterday in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and here are the facts. We are at war with al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden is the emir, or commander -- indeed, the only leader of al-Qaeda in its 22-year history. This was his residence and operational compound. Our forces entered that compound and were fired upon, in the pitch black. It's an organization that uses IEDs and suicide vests and booby traps and all manner of other kinds of destructive capabilities. Let me just finish what I'm saying here --
WALLACE: -- But let me just make my point. I'm not asking you why it was okay to shoot Osama bin Laden. I fully understand the threat. And I'm not second-guessing the SEALs.
WALLACE: What I am second-guessing is, if that's okay, why can't you do waterboarding? Why can't you do enhanced interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was just as bad an operator as Osama bin Laden?
DONILON: Yeah, because, well our judgment is that it's not consistent with our values, not consistent and not necessary, in terms of getting the kind of intelligence we need.
WALLACE: But shooting bin Laden in the head is consistent with our values?
DONILON: It -- we are at war with Osama bin Laden.
WALLACE: We're at war with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
DONILON: It was a military operation, right? It was absolutely appropriate for the SEALs to take the action, and for the forces to take the action that they took in this military operation against a military target --
WALLACE: But why is it inappropriate to get information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?
DONILON: I didn't say it was inappropriate to get information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
WALLACE: You said it was against our values.
DONILON: I think that the techniques are something that there's been a policy debate about, and our administration has made our views known on that.
WALLACE: Let me ask you about one other aspect of this and we'll move on. The Obama Justice Department reopened an investigation of half dozen CIA agents who were involved in interrogation after 9/11, raising the question -- and this had been closed. This has been a closed investigation. It was reopened by your justice department on the issue of whether or not they were using undue force. We talked earlier with Vice President Cheney who says that investigation is an outrage. Question: with interrogation, and you certainly have agreed, however it came -- with interrogation such a key part of this raid, why not end that investigation? [Fox News, Fox News Sunday, 5/8/11]
Fox & Friends Hosts A Parade Of Former Bush Administration Officials To Claim EITs Were “Key” In Finding Bin Laden. On the May 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, the co-hosts interviewed three former Bush administration officials to claim that EITs produced valuable information that led to Osama bin Laden.
- Perino: “I Trust ... [Those Who Say] Enhanced Techniques Save Lives.” During the show, the co-hosts interviewed former White House Press Secretary and Fox News Contributor Dana Perino. Co-host Gretchen Carlson said that many people credit “President Bush's enhanced interrogation techniques ... with killing Osama bin Laden.” Perino later said that she believes Bush officials who told her that “enhanced techniques save lives.” From the broadcast:
GRETCHEN CARLSON: The only disappointing thing for me, Dana, on [President Obama's May 8 60 Minutes] interview, maybe Steve Kroft asked these questions and they were edited out, but they didn't seem to move the story forward, as far as what do we do about on the war on terror now moving forward. Was that deliberate so that the president wouldn't be in a jam to have to talk about the fact that he's gotten rid of President Bush's enhanced interrogation techniques that many people credit with killing Osama bin Laden?
PERINO: You know, possibly, though I have to say, having watched 60 Minutes this past year, President Obama is almost a permanent fixture on the program. So maybe next week --
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Co-host.
PERINO: -- he'll do another interview, and he'll be able to talk about that. It was actually the Sunday show hosts, and I would say including Chris Wallace, who pressed the National Security Advisor Tom Donilon on that very point. What are we going to be willing to do? And it's interesting to watch the left tie themselves up in knots and to rationalize that killing somebody is OK, because we're in a war with them, but enhanced interrogation techniques, which were legal, were not allowed because they're not consistent with our values. It doesn't make sense to us but I'm sure they rationalized it internally.
DOOCY: And Dana, well, John Yoo was part of your administration. You've got Leon Panetta, who last Tuesday told Brian Williams that the enhanced interrogation techniques did lead to, you know, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed spilling the beans.
PERINO: Right, so it's a mosaic of information and it all comes together, and it takes very astute intelligence community officials looking at all of that intel, piecing it together and pulling those threads and making sure that they follow them through. My bottom line is, I trust General Hayden and Attorney General Mukasey. They say that enhanced techniques save lives, and we forget the most dangerous position in the world to hold over the last 10 years has been Osama bin Laden's number two. OK? We had that intelligence. We were able to get them. We finally got to him, and that is so symbolic. But we were able to prevent many attacks because of this intelligence, and I remember President Bush telling me, it didn't matter how unpopular he got, as long as the next president had what he needed to protect the country. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/9/11]
- Hayden: "[EITs] Allowed Us To Gain Information [And] Intelligence That Would Not Have Been Available To Us In Any Other Way." Later during the program, the co-hosts interviewed former CIA and NSA director General Michael Hayden (ret.). Hayden agreed with Carlson that EITs were “key,” saying, “They allowed us to gain information, to gain intelligence that would not have been available to us in any other way. I mean, that's just a simple fact.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/9/11]
- Mukasey: “At The Time [EITs] Were Used, They Were Enormously Valuable.” Later during the show, co-host Brian Kilmeade interviewed former Attorney General Michael Mukasey. From the broadcast:
KILMEADE: From what you know, and what I won't be able to know, because I didn't have your type of clearance, how valuable were the enhanced interrogation practices to the success of the war on terror and getting bin Laden?
MUKASEY: At the time they were used, they were enormously valuable. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who had a trove of information, cracked like a dam, and when that dam broke, he disclosed enormous amounts of information that stopped ongoing projects that they had, and that disclosed a lot of valuable information, including some information that was part of the trail that led eventually to bin Laden. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/9/11]
Briggs: "[W]as President Obama's Decision Not To Reconsider" EITs “Putting America At Future Risk?” On the May 8 broadcast of Fox News' Fox & Friends Sunday, co-host Dave Briggs said that bin Laden's death has “reignited the debate over harsh interrogation techniques, like waterboarding.” He asked, “So, is President Obama's decision not to reconsider these using these techniques putting America at future risk?” [Fox News, Fox & Friends Sunday, 5/8/11]
Bozell: “It Is Because Of Waterboarding That Osama Bin Laden Is Dead.” On the May 6 broadcast of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Media Research Center President Brent Bozell claimed that following the raid which killed bin Laden, “you [could] hear the sound of thousands of people in Washington, DC peeling egg off their faces” because “enhanced interrogation techniques -- let's call it what it is. It's waterboarding, you know what, it is because of waterboarding that Osama bin Laden is dead, and everybody knows it.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/6/11]
Experts Dispute Claims That EITs Directly Led To Bin Laden
Former Interrogators And Intelligence Officials: “Torture Did Not Lead The U.S. To Bin Laden.” In a May 4 statement, four former interrogators and intelligence officer issued the following statement regarding the use of EITs and the hunt for bin Laden:
Torture Did Not Lead the U.S. to bin Laden, It Almost Certainly Prolonged the Hunt
We are concerned about the suggestion by some that the use of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques led U.S. forces to Osama bin Laden's compound.
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.
This is not surprising. Our experience is that torture is a poor way to develop useful, accurate information.
We know from experience that it is very difficult to elicit information from a detainee who has been abused. The abuse often only strengthens their resolve and makes it that much harder for an interrogator to find a way to elicit useful information.
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. [Huffington Post, 5/4/11]
HuffPo: Interrogators And Experts Argue That EITs “May Have Slowed Hunt For Bin Laden, Not Hastened It.” In a May 6 Huffington Post article, Senior Washington Correspondent Dan Froomkin cited numerous experts and officials arguing that “bin Laden could have been caught much earlier had those detainees [subjected to EITs] been interrogated properly.” From the May 6 article:
Defenders of the Bush administration's interrogation policies have claimed vindication from reports that bin Laden was tracked down in small part due to information received from brutalized detainees some six to eight years ago.
But that sequence of events -- even if true -- doesn't demonstrate the effectiveness of torture, these experts say. Rather, it indicates bin Laden could have been caught much earlier had those detainees been interrogated properly.
“I think that without a doubt, torture and enhanced interrogation techniques slowed down the hunt for bin Laden,” said an Air Force interrogator who goes by the pseudonym Matthew Alexander and located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, in 2006.
It now appears likely that several detainees had information about a key al Qaeda courier -- information that might have led authorities directly to bin Laden years ago. But subjected to physical and psychological brutality, “they gave us the bare minimum amount of information they could get away with to get the pain to stop, or to mislead us,” Alexander told The Huffington Post.
“We know that they didn't give us everything, because they didn't provide the real name, or the location, or somebody else who would know that information,” he said.
In a 2006 study by the National Defense Intelligence College, trained interrogators found that traditional, rapport-based interviewing approaches are extremely effective with even the most hardened detainees, whereas coercion consistently builds resistance and resentment.
“Had we handled some of these sources from the beginning, I would like to think that there's a good chance that we would have gotten this information or other information,” said Steven Kleinman, a longtime military intelligence officer who has extensively researched, practiced and taught interrogation techniques.
“By making a detainee less likely to provide information, and making the information he does provide harder to evaluate, they hindered what we needed to accomplish,” said Glenn L. Carle, a retired CIA officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002. [Huffington Post, 5/6/11]
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Feinstein: “To The Best Of Our Knowledge,” None Of The Intelligence “Came As A Result Of Harsh Interrogation Practices.” From a May 3 TPM Muckraker post:
More and more evidence suggests a key piece of intelligence -- the first link in the chain of information that led U.S. intelligence officials to Osama bin Laden -- wasn't tortured out of its source. And, indeed, that torture actually failed to produce it.
“To the best of our knowledge, based on a look, none of it came as a result of harsh interrogation practices,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a wide-ranging press conference.
Moreover, Feinstein added, nothing about the sequence of events that culminated in Sunday's raid vindicates the Bush-era techniques, nor their use of black sites -- secret prisons, operated by the CIA.
“Absolutely not, I do not,” Feinstein said. “I happen to know a good deal about how those interrogations were conducted, and in my view nothing justifies the kind of procedures that were used.” [TPM Muckraker, 5/3/11]
NSC Dismissed Efficacy Of Torture In Developing Intel On Bin Laden. The New York Times reported:
Glenn L. Carle, a retired C.I.A. officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002, said in a phone interview Tuesday, that coercive techniques “didn't provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information.” He 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.”
Obama administration officials, intent on celebrating Monday's successful raid, have tried to avoid reigniting a partisan battle over torture.
“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,” said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council. “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.” [The New York Times, 5/4/11]
The New Yorker: “This Timeline Doesn't Seem To Provide A Lot Of Support For The Pro-Torture Narrative.” From a May 2 post to The New Yorker:
Many key details are still missing. But according to the New York Times, the turning point came when detainees being held in Guantánamo--not in the C.I.A.'s secret black-site prisons--revealed to American interrogators the pseudonym used by a key bin Laden courier, whom they also identified as a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Then, four years ago, American interrogators were able to learn the real name of the courier. It then took two more years, according to the Times, before American officials were able to piece together the geographic region in which he operated. They didn't succeed in tracking him to the suspicious compound, in which bin Laden resided, until last August.
This timeline doesn't seem to provide a lot of support for the pro-torture narrative. One would think that if so-called “enhanced interrogations” provided the magic silver bullet, and if the courier was a protégé of K.S.M.'s, then the C.I.A. might have wrapped this up back in 2003, while they were waterboarding the 9/11 mastermind a hundred and eighty-three times. Despite these contradictions and complications, the two sides on the torture debate are already off and running. [The New Yorker, 5/2/11]
Deputy National Security Advisor: Integral Intelligence Was Not Obtained By Waterboarding “To My Knowledge.” From the May 3 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: So we've been talking about the different details and methods that led up to this moment, and obviously there is word out today that waterboarding played a very big role or a role in actually getting the information that was integral in finding Bin Laden. Is that the case?
JOHN BRENNAN: Not to my knowledge. The information that was acquired over the course of nine years or so came from many different sources: human sources, technical sources, as well as information that detainees provided. And it was something that as a result of the painstaking work that the analysts did, they pieced it all together that lead us to the Abbottabad compound last year and resulted in the very successful operation on Sunday. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 5/3/11]
CIA Director Panetta: Whether Torture Was Needed To Track Bin Laden “Is Always Going To Be An Open Question.” From the May 3 edition of NBC Nightly News:
LEON PANETTA: We had a multiple source -- a multiple series of sources -- that provided information with regards to this situation. Clearly, some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees. But we also had information from other sources as well. So, it's a little difficult to say it was due just to one source of information that we got.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Turned around the other way, are you denying that waterboarding was in part among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to this successful mission?
PANETTA: No, I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I'm also saying that, you know, the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question. [NBC, NBC Nightly News, 5/3/11, via RealClearPolitics]
TPM: Attorney General Said “He Didn't Know” If Information Obtained Through Torture Led US To Bin Laden. From a May 3 post on TPM Muckraker:
Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that he didn't know if any information obtained from detainees undergoing enhanced interrogation techniques lead to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“There was a mosaic of sources that lead to the identification of the people” who lead to bin Laden, Holder told members of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Pressed by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) on whether any information used to find bin Laden came out during enhanced interrogation, Holder said he didn't know. [TPM Muckraker, 5/3/11]
Right-Wing Media Have Been Praising EIT Program Since Bin Laden's Death Announced
Right-Wing Media Tout Bin Laden Death As Victory For Torture, Ignore Dispute. Beginning May 2, the day after President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a U.S. military raid, right-wing media jumped to declare victory for former President Bush's EIT program. [Media Matters, 5/4/11]