Former Bush attorney general Michael Mukasey — who has been leading the charge for torture defenders intent on claiming a piece of Bin Laden’s killing for Bush — has now responded to CIA chief Leon Panetta’s letter downplaying the role of torture in tracking down Bin Laden.
But Mukasey’s latest pushback is also undercut by what’s available on the public record.
As you know, Panetta’s letter contradicted Mukasey’s initial suggestion that the trail to Bin Laden “began” with information squeezed out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed via torture. Mukasey had suggested torture got KSM to unleash a “torrent of information,” including the “nickname” of Bin Laden’s courier. But Panetta’s letter claimed that we first learned the name of the courier from a source not in CIA custody and that no detainee in CIA custody ever revealed the courier’s true full name or whereabouts.
Now, according to ABC News, Mukasey has responded by reiterating that KSM disclosed the courier’s nickname, but he seems to have qualified his account by allowing that this wasn’t the first time a detainee had mentioned the name. Mukasey added that the name only became significant “when it came out of [KSM’s] mouth.”
But this doesn’t respond to what Panetta said, which is that we initially learned of the courier’s name from someone not in CIA custody — and that no one in CIA custody ever copped to the courier’s true full name or whereabouts. Mukasey is only claiming that a CIA detainee had previously mentioned the courier’s name and that KSM later attested to its significance.
What’s more, as Ben Armbruster notes, this latest pushback doesn’t strengthen the pro-torture case when you stack it up against the New York Times’s careful and extensive investigation into what happened. The Times concluded that KSM was only first asked about the courier months after he had been waterboarded, and that if anything, he had misled investigators about the courier’s identity. So it’s hard to see how what KSM said vindicates torture.
As Post fact checker Glenn Kessler noted yesterday, Mukasey had already been resorting to “verbal sleight of hand” to draw a tenuous connection between toture and Bin Laden’s death. Mukasey’s response to Panetta will do little to alter that judgment.
UPDATE: Post edited slightly from original.