Time magazine’s new issue (no link to the text is available) includes this weird explanation of how torture helped track down Osama bin Laden:
Interrogators grilled 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed for details about the courier. When he pleaded ignorance, they knew they were on to something promising. Al-Libbi, the senior Al-Qaeda figure captured in 2005, also played dumb. Both men were subjected to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including, in Mohammed’s case, the waterboard.
As best I can tell, the argument here is that they got no information about the Al-Qaeda courier from torturing these two detainees–which was just the crucial lead needed to crack the case. So the fact that torturing these two detainees did not produce information proves that torturing is a useful way to produce information.
The piece goes on to say, “The report that Mohammed and al-Libbi were more forthcoming after the harsh treatment guarantees that the argument will go on.” Does that make any sense at all? Or is this just more evidence that anything and everything can be used by torture proponents to claim vindication?
Marcy Wheeler’s coverage of this discussion at FireDogLake has been excellent, and seems more to the point:
But there are two points that seem key in assessing the torture question. First, both KSM and al-Libi had critical intelligence they withheld under torture. KSM knew of Abu Ahmed’s trusted role and real name; al-Libi knew Abu Ahmed was OBL’s trusted courier and may have known of what became OBL’s compound.
And neither of them revealed that information to the CIA.
They waterboarded KSM 183 times in a month, and he either never got asked about couriers guarding OBL, or he avoided answering the question honestly. Had KSM revealed that detail, Bush might have gotten OBL eight years ago.
One other consideration–raised by Matthew Alexander on CounterSpin–is that the courier’s nickname allegedly offered by Khalid Sheik Mohammed was probably not all that helpful. Indeed, a Los Angeles Times article (5/5/11), based on interviews with various government officials, makes this point:
They stressed that none of the three most critical pieces of information–the courier’s name, the area of Pakistan in which he operated and the location of the compound in which Bin Laden was living–came from detainees.