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.
Both former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Director of National Intelligence Admiral Michael McConnell have acknowledged repeatedly that up to 2006, many of the valuable leads pursued by the intelligence community came from the three prisoners who were subjected to harsh techniques that included waterboarding in order to secure their cooperation.
So far as the waterboarding technique used by CIA operators, as outlined in the memoranda released by the Department of Justice, it was entirely legal at the time, which is to say before the passage of later statutes in 2005 and 2006, by which time it was no longer in use and under which it has not been evaluated.
In other words, the harsh interrogation techniques were both effective and lawful.