Conservatives Exclaim, “Torture works!” Not so Fast

As one conservative put it, “How did we find the Couriers? That info was gotten at Guantanamo Bay. Info that never would have been obtained had the detainees been treated as US criminals. This, in my view, vindicates the decision to sequester the detainees at Gitmo and ALL of their interrogation methods. It worked.” While there are many accounts of exactly what happened, some conservatives are focusing on the online magazine Slate. White House reporter John Dickerson wrote, “detainees being held at Guantánamo provided some of the strongest information about those who were trusted by bin Laden. They identified a courier and his brother who lived in Abbottabad, Pakistan, an affluent suburb where a lot of retired Pakistani military officers live.”

This single report goes much further than any other report with regards to the role of Guantánamo detainees in the assassination of Osama bin Laden. In a separate report by the Associated Press, they specifically point the finger at Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. I have a problem with this. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured in 2003. According to reports, it was 2005 before the CIA began to get information about a courier that was working for Osama bin Laden. The dates don’t seem to match. Did the CIA sit on information for two years? Separate reports state that the CIA was given a pseudonym for the courier. The CIA needed to do more leg work in order to find out the courier’s real name and where the courier was located. Again, this doesn’t quite add up. If, for example, I tell you that Popeye the Sailor is a close confidant of Osama bin Laden I’m not sure that’s going to help you much. On the other hand, if I can give you a courier’s real name and where he actually lives in Pakistan, that would probably be helpful.

On the Last Word last night, Michael Isikoff, veteran reporter from Newsweek, mentions there are clearly some questions about whether these enhanced interrogations (torture) really gleaned valuable information. Watch the video:

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Marcy has more:

In other words, while the CIA may have learned the courier’s nickname earlier, they didn’t learn his true name until “four years ago”–so late 2006 at the earliest. And they didn’t learn where the courier operated until around 2009.

From these dates we can conclude that either KSM shielded the courier’s identity entirely until close to 2007, or he told his interrogators that there was a courier who might be protecting bin Laden early in his detention but they were never able to force him to give the courier’s true name or his location, at least not until three or four years after the waterboarding of KSM ended. That’s either a sign of the rank incompetence of KSM’s interrogators (that is, that they missed the significance of a courier protecting OBL), or a sign he was able to withstand whatever treatment they used with him.

With al-Libi, the connection between whatever torture he experienced and this intelligence is less clear (since he was first detained in 2005), but even with al-Libi, it appears clear he either never revealed the courier’s real name or only did so after he had been in custody for a year, and almost certainly until after he arrived in Gitmo.

Update: Putting the AP’s reporting here together with the DAB, it seems like al-Libi did give up the name, perhaps earlier than reported. Still no waterboarding.

Either these men didn’t know the true name of their protégé and assistant (which is highly unlikely), or they managed to withhold that information even under torture.

In fact, two people who normally would be crowing about the success of torture are not now doing it. Donald Rumsfeld suggests the discovery of OBL came from intelligence gained at Gitmo (therefore, not in Poland or Romania). And while Cheney assumes enhanced interrogation, aka torture, led to OBL, he admits he doesn’t know where the intelligence came from. That he was ordering up propaganda reports along the way to justify his torture program, yet can’t claim definitively that the intelligence came from it, is a pretty good tell that he can’t say it did.

If KSM and al-Libi revealed details about the courier (and al-Libi’s Gitmo file suggests he did; KSM’s, which is dated two years earlier, does not), they shielded the most important information about him for years.

Donald Rumsfeld, who I think is trying to stay out of jail, said,“The United States Department of Defense did not do waterboarding for interrogation purposes to anyone. It is true that some information that came from normal interrogation approaches at Guantanamo did lead to information that was beneficial in this instance. But it was not harsh treatment and it was not waterboarding.”

One thing is clear. We need more information before declaring that Guantánamo Bay, enhanced interrogations, torture, forced renditions, black sites or any of that other Bush administration quasilegal stuff was effective, needed or proven. We need more data.