Debate flares anew on harsh interrogation

May 4, 2011 Issues: Killing of Osama bin Laden

By Bill Gertz
The Washington Times
May 4, 2011
 

The successful operation against Osama bin Laden has rekindled debate over the use of harsh interrogation techniques during the Bush administration, as a key intelligence leader acknowledged their role in a TV interview Tuesday.

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said some threads of intelligence among the multiple origins came through the use of harsh interrogation.

"Clearly, some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees, but we also had information from other sources as well," Mr. Panetta said on NBC News.

Asked to deny that waterboarding was among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to the successful mission, Mr. Panetta said: "No. I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees."

The CIA director also said 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."

Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said initial clues to bin Laden's location can be traced to the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and interrogations of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the former No. 3 al Qaeda leader, who was captured in 2005.

"Khalid Shaikh Mohammed basically gave up nothing until after he had been waterboarded," Mr. King said in an interview Tuesday. "It was after that that he first mentioned the courier, he identified him by his nom de guerre, and after that ... al-Libbi also gave us additional information on the courier."

However, White House counterterrorism coordinator John Brennan said Tuesday that he is not aware that waterboarding produced intelligence that led to the location of bin Laden's compound.

"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," Mr. Brennan said on MSNBC.

Mr. King said the Bush administration's overall handling of terrorist detainees was vindicated by Sunday's successful raid. "Absolutely. This is a vindication," the New York Republican said. "Without that, we may not have gotten bin Laden."

Administration officials said tracking one particular bin Laden courier ultimately produced key intelligence that ended the worldwide manhunt with Sunday's commando raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that left the al Qaeda leader dead.

Work by analysts who "pieced it all together" led to the Abbottabad compound last year and the Sunday raid, Mr. Brennan said, noting that no single piece of information resulted in finding the compound and that data from detained terrorists was mixed.

"Sometimes they gave up information willingly as far as offering some details; some of it was disinformation," he said. "Sometimes they provided information that they didn't realize had embedded clues in it that we were able to exploit."

A senior Obama administration official who briefed reporters Sunday night said intelligence agencies focused on finding couriers for bin Laden since 2001, with one trusted messenger having "our constant attention."

Interrogated detainees provided the courier's nom de guerre, identified him as a protege of Mohammed and al-Libbi and revealed that he was "one of the few al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden," the official said.

The courier also was living with and protecting bin Laden, but intelligence agencies were unable for years to learn his name or location. Then, four years ago, the courier was identified by name, and two years later, he and his brother were spotted operating in a specific area of Pakistan, the official said.

"Still, we were unable to pinpoint exactly where they lived, due to extensive operational security on their part," the official said.

In August, the couriers' residence was located as the Abbottabad compound, triggering the covert operation that began in September and ended on Sunday. Both the courier and his brother were killed in the raid.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told reporters on Tuesday that "nothing has been found to indicate that this came out of Guantanamo." The latter is a reference to the detention center for terrorism suspects at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"And people were questioned, but there were no positive answers as to the identity of this No. 1 courier," said Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said he thinks harsh interrogations likely contributed to finding bin Laden.

"I would assume that the enhanced interrogation program that we put in place produced some of the results that led to bin Laden's ultimate capture," Mr. Cheney said Monday on the Fox News Channel.

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in an interview with Newsmax that "normal interrogation techniques" helped lead searchers to bin Laden, but not waterboarding.

"It certainly points up the fact that the structures that President Bush put into place - military commissions, Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, indefinite detention, and humane treatment, but intensive interrogation, to be sure - all contributed to the success we've had in the global war on terror," Mr. Rumsfeld said.