Torture May Have Slowed Hunt For Bin Laden, Not Hastened It
Torture apologists are reaching precisely the wrong conclusion from the back-story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, say experienced interrogators and intelligence professionals.
Defenders of the Bush administration’s interrogation policies have claimed vindication from reports that bin Laden was tracked down in small part due to information received from brutalized detainees some six to eight years ago.
But that sequence of events -- even if true -- doesn’t demonstrate the effectiveness of torture, these experts say. Rather, it indicates bin Laden could have been caught much earlier had those detainees been interrogated properly.
"I think that without a doubt, torture and enhanced interrogation techniques slowed down the hunt for bin Laden," said an Air Force interrogator who goes by the pseudonym Matthew Alexander and located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, in 2006.
It now appears likely that several detainees had information about a key al Qaeda courier -- information that might have led authorities directly to bin Laden years ago. But subjected to physical and psychological brutality, "they gave us the bare minimum amount of information they could get away with to get the pain to stop, or to mislead us," Alexander told The Huffington Post.
"We know that they didn’t give us everything, because they didn’t provide the real name, or the location, or somebody else who would know that information," he said.
In a 2006 study by the National Defense Intelligence College, trained interrogators found that traditional, rapport-based interviewing approaches are extremely effective with even the most hardened detainees, whereas coercion consistently builds resistance and resentment.
"Had we handled some of these sources from the beginning, I would like to think that there’s a good chance that we would have gotten this information or other information," said Steven Kleinman, a longtime military intelligence officer who has extensively researched, practiced and taught interrogation techniques.
"By making a detainee less likely to provide information, and making the information he does provide harder to evaluate, they hindered what we needed to accomplish," said Glenn L. Carle, a retired CIA officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002.
But the discovery and killing of bin Laden was enough for defenders of the Bush administration to declare that their policies had been vindicated.
Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, quickly issued a statement declaring that she was "grateful to the men and women of America’s intelligence services who, through their interrogation of high-value detainees, developed the information that apparently led us to bin Laden."
John Yoo, the lead author of the "Torture Memos," wrote in the Wall Street Journal that bin Laden's death "vindicates the Bush administration, whose intelligence architecture marked the path to bin Laden's door."
Former Bush secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld declared that "the information that came from those individuals was critically important."
The Obama White House pushed back against that conclusion this week.
"The bottom line is this: If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003," Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, told The New York Times.