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There's been a hypothesis floating around that the enhanced interrogation techniques implemented by President Bush following 9/11 may have helped get Osama Bin Laden. If you ask the politicians, you get two answers - 1) politicians who are against enhanced interrogation techniques say they didn't help, and 2) politicians who favor enhanced interrogations say they did help. That's about what I'd expect from politicians. They promote their own beliefs.
Politicians do what politicians do, but what do the facts say ? I did some checking.
Everyone following the Bin Laden story knows by now that we found Bin Laden by tracking one of his couriers. That is unquestioned. That courier's name is Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. I'll let NPR take it from here:
To find Osama bin Laden, U.S. officials first had to find the man who served as his courier. But the operation that killed the al-Qaida leader has stirred up some controversy: Some of the information about the courier may have come as the result of harsh CIA interrogations.
NPR has learned that the courier was a Kuwait-born Pakistani who went by the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. It was in his house that U.S. forces found and killed bin Laden.
We tracked al-Kuwaiti and found out Bin Laden was living at al-Kuwaiti's house, or at least we were pretty sure Bin Laden was living there before we attacked. The key question then becomes - how did we find out about al-Kuwaiti ? Back to NPR:
The Guantanamo documents describe al-Kuwaiti as a senior al-Qaida facilitator and courier. The footnotes reveal how — and when — this information was acquired.
Some of the first leads came from detainees who were interrogated while in CIA custody; this is where the controversy arises.
About a third of the CIA detainees were subjected to what the agency euphemistically called enhanced interrogation techniques.
Among those who provided information while under CIA control was Hassan Gul, a senior al-Qaida operative from Pakistan. According to the detainee documents, Gul told interrogators that Kuwaiti traveled with Bin Laden. A senior U.S. official says the information Gul provided was key to identifying al-Kuwaiti as Bin Laden's courier.
But he may have provided it under stress.
A 2005 document indicates that Gul was one of the CIA detainees subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques." He is now free.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [KSM], a mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and one of three CIA detainees subjected to waterboarding, indirectly confirmed information about Kuwaiti.
It's clear we gained information leading ultimately to Bin Laden from detainees at Guantanomo Bay. It's also clear that detainee Hassan Gul, who identified al-Kuwaiti as Bin Laden's courier, and detainee Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who confirmed that information, underwent enhanced interrogation techniques. The link between enhanced interrogations and Bin laden is getting pretty strong, but this still isn't absolute proof. Critics could say it wasn't the enhanced interrogation techniques that got the detainees to talk. They could say this:
Critics of "enhanced interrogation techniques" say they are tantamount to torture, and they argue that intelligence gleaned from those interrogations is unreliable. They also point out that some of the most useful information that came from Mohammed and others was obtained only after the harsh interrogations ended.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden agrees, BUT....
"I'm willing to concede the point that no one gave us valuable or actionable intelligence while they were, for example, being waterboarded," he said. "The purpose of the enhanced interrogation techniques was to take someone who was refusing to cooperate with us and to accelerate the process by which we would move from a zone of defiance to a zone of cooperation."
In other words, the CIA would use the enhanced interrogation techniques to "break" Al Qaeda detainees, and after that they would talk to us. Saying that detainess only talked AFTER the enhanced interrogation techniques is actually proof that those techniques worked. It's not like Al Qaeda members were eager to give Americans high-value intelligence on their operations. Al Qaedans wouldn't want to tell us anything, which is why enhanced interrogation techniques were used in the first place.
Current CIA director Leon Panetta practically admitted inadvertently that enhanced interrogations gave us info leading to Bin Laden:
"They used these enhanced-interrogation techniques against some of these detainees, but I'm also saying that the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches, I think, is always going to be an open question," Panetta said.
By saying maybe we COULD have gotten the information with other approaches, isn't Panetta in effect saying we DID get the information with the enhanced interrogations approach ? Sounds like it to me.
Former chief speechwriter for President Bush, Marc Thiessen, confirmed the Hassan Gul/Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to al-Kuwaiti to Bin Laden connection, and added some more depth to the subject last night on Fox News:
THIESSEN: Well, the headline is CIA interrogations work. I mean, the fact is in the period after 9/11, we knew absolutely nothing about the enemy who attacked us. We did not know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of 9/11. We didn't know who his key operatives were. We didn't know what they had planned. And then we started capturing these terrorists. We captured Abu Zubaydah [ Da King here - Zubaydah was one of the three who were waterboarded at Gitmo], who was a key Al Qaeda facilitator, and he gave us information that led us to Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who was one of KSM's key operatives. And they together led us to KSM. And KSM was resistant when he came into the -- when he was captured by the CIA. When they asked him about new plots, he said soon you will know. And he said I will tell you everything when I -- when I get to New York and see my lawyer. And he didn't see a lawyer. He was put under enhanced interrogation techniques and he went -- once he went through those, he made a decision to cooperate. And when he was done, he was running a graduate level class on Al Qaeda operations for the CIA...
THIESSEN: Well, I mean, they -- we had very little information about Al Qaeda's courier networks. What happened was first -- Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who were the first guys brought into the program, gave us some general information about couriers and some code names for those folks. When KSM was interrogated after he underwent waterboarding; not during it, afterwards. When he was going -- when he was being questioned, he acknowledged that he -- they had given us the name of this fellow al-Kuwaiti which was a nom de guerre and KSM admitted that he knew him. Then in 2004, we captured a fellow named Hassan Ghul who was a senior Al Qaeda operative. He was captured in Iraq, and he told us that this courier al-Kuwaiti was a key lieutenant of KSM's successor Abu Faraj al-Libi…
O'REILLY: Now, did he do that under duress -- let me just -- did he do that under duress or did he just tell us?
THIESSEN: Well, this is the thing that people don't understand. You're hearing a lot of the left is trying -- the deniers of this program are trying to say, well did they use -- did they tell us this under waterboarding or under standard interrogation later and that misunderstands how interrogation works. Enhanced interrogation was never used to get intelligence; it was used to get cooperation. So you took a detainee like KSM, who is in the state of total resistance, and you used the enhanced interrogation techniques to bring him to a state of cooperation. And when he's under enhanced interrogation techniques, they are asking him questions they already know the answers to in order to gauge whether he had stopped lying and made the decision to cooperate. And then, once he starts cooperating, the technique stops. In most cases with enhanced interrogation, the detainees went under them for a couple of days. And KSM -- he was a really tough, tough guy. He was -- he went for about a month. But once that month ended, the interrogation, the enhanced interrogations stopped and we had a -- they had a conversation with him like you and I are speaking today.
O'REILLY: All right. So you are convinced then that the information provided by KSM and then the other guy Ghul who was captured a couple of years later…
O'REILLY: …pinpointed for the CIA this courier and then they started to tail him and that led to bin Laden's demise. Is that correct?
THIESSEN: Well, actually, yes, well, Abu Faraj, I'm sorry Hassan Ghul told us that he was a key operative of Abu Faraj al-Libi, who was KSM's successor after he was captured. So they capture Abu Faraj in 2005 and he's brought into the CIA interrogation program. He's not waterboarded, but he undergoes enhanced interrogation and was resistant, brought into a state of cooperation. And then, he starts giving them information about the courier networks and he's identifying individuals and giving them information about how the couriers operate, where the drops are and so on and so forth. And then they ask them about al-Kuwaiti, and he says I don't know him. And you know, people say that's proof that he, well, he lied. But we knew that he knew him because Abu -- because Hassan Ghul had told us that he was his key deputy. So one -- that was the red flag that told the CIA this is the guy he's protecting. This is the guy we have to go after. So if it had not been for that process, starting with Abu Zubaydah in 2002, identifying the names; KSM confirming the name; Hassan Ghul telling us he was Faraj's deputy and then Faraj denying that he even knew the guy, then they -- the CIA would have never known this is the guy to zero in on and they went after him, found him and it took years to do it. Found him and eventually followed him to bin Laden's lair.
Aside from the multiple spellings of Hassan Ghul's last name, the stories of NPR and Marc Thiessen on Fox News match. Thiessen provides more detail. I think we can safely conclude that enhanced interrogation techniques resulted in us getting tons of information about the Al Qaeda terrorist network, and the link is very strong between those techniques and intelligence leading eventually to Bin Laden, from all the facts I've read. Could we have gotten the information another way ? Maybe, but if so, I'd like somebody to tell me what that way is, and I'd like them to tell me how many other terrorist attacks and deaths would have been acceptable had we done things the "nice" way. There are two sides to that morality coin. When somebody is trying to kill innocent Americans, as is Al Qaeda, I tend to err on the side that favors saving American lives. But that's just me.
As always, if anyone has credible information contradicting what I've written here, I'm all ears.
Breaking News - President Obama launched a predator drone attack in Yemen on thursday in an effort to kill another high-level terrorist, the American born Anwar al-Awlaki. This is the second time Obama went after Awlaki. The attack was done with the cooperation of the Yemeni government, but Awlaki escaped.