The Bush torture dead-enders are now flailing badly as their case that torture led to Bin Laden becomes increasingly tenuous.
Case in point: Former Bush attorney general Michael Mukasey has now responded to Senator John McCain’s emotional demand that he stop claiming that Bin Laden’s killing vindicates torture:
Senator McCain described as “false” my statement that Khalid Sheik Mohammed broke under harsh interrogation that included waterboarding, and disclosed a torrent of information that included the nickname of Osama bin Laden’s courier. He strongly implied in the remainder of his column in the Washington Post that this harsh interrogation was not only useless but also illegal. He is simply incorrect on all three counts.
KSM disclosed the nickname — al Kuwaiti — along with a wealth of other information, some of which was used to stop terror plots then in progress. He did so after refusing to answer questions and, when asked if further plots were afoot, said that his interrogators would eventually find out. Another detainee, captured in Iraq, disclosed that al Kuwaiti was a trusted operative of KSM’s successor, abu Faraj al-Libbi. When al-Libbi went so far as to deny even knowing the man, his importance became obvious.
Effectiveness aside, torture wouldn’t be morally justified even if it worked. Even so, the pro-torture case hangs on a very thin reed. The idea is that the second detainee indentified above by Mukasey — Hassan Ghul — identified while in CIA custoday that al Kuwaiti was Bin Laden’s courier. But little is known about Ghul’s actual treatment, and both Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi lied about al-Kuwaiti’s importance — despite the fact that KSM was waterboarded. In fact, according to the Associated Press, KSM gave up this key intelligence “many months later under standard interrogation.” Mukasey is basically fudging by arguing that waterboarding KSM was vindicated by his disclosure of information not gleaned through waterboarding.
The details of Ghul’s treatment are unclear, so we don’t know if he was tortured. But we do know he wasn’t subject to waterboarding, which Mukasey is so interested in defending — only three detainees are known to have been waterboarded, and he wasn’t one of them. That’s why the New York Times concluded that “the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out.” What’s more, CIA chief Leon Panetta and the Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein — who is currently investigating the interrogations of high value detainees — have both said that while information gleaned from CIA interrogations helped lead to bin Laden, torture did not.
That’s the key claim McCain made yesterday, and the one Mukasey fails to really address here. McCain said that “the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in Al-Qaeda and his true relationship to Osama bin Laden — was obtained through standard, non-coercive means, not through any ‘enhanced interrogation technique.”
Note the distinction. McCain is not saying CIA interrogations played no role. He’s saying torture didn’t play a role. And in making this claim, he’s backed up by the head of the CIA, who helped oversee the successful manhunt for the world’s most wanted terrorist. We may have to wait for Feinstein’s investigation to conclude before closing this case once and for all. But for now, the evidence strongly suggests McCain is right, and Mukasey and the Bush torture dead enders are wrong.