FORT WORTH, Texas — The Bush administration would have used the same strategy to kill terrorist Osama bin Laden had those circumstances arisen years ago, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.
Rumsfeld said President Barack Obama made the right decision in sending Navy SEALs to raid the al-Qaida leader's compound in Pakistan earlier this month. But he declined to say how much credit the Obama administration deserves.
"The capabilities to do it were developed over time by previous administrations, and they benefit the country, and the intelligence had been gathered over a long period of time," Rumsfeld said. "And it came to fruition in the Obama administration, to the credit of the intelligence community. ... I don't have a doubt in my mind but that President Bush, if he had information as to the location of bin Laden, would have done exactly the same thing, and I thought the forces executed it brilliantly."
Rumsfeld, defense secretary under President Gerald R. Ford from 1975-77 and under President George W. Bush from 2001-06, spoke to the AP by telephone. On Sunday he will be in Texas for a book-signing tour of his memoir, "Known and Unknown," with stops at Fort Hood in Killeen, Fort Bliss in El Paso and Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio through next week.
Most information about al-Qaida that led to bin Laden's hideout came from three detainees after the CIA used "enhanced interrogation techniques," including the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, Rumsfeld said. Bush approved those techniques for the CIA's use only on high-value targets and were never done by the Defense Department or on any Guantanamo Bay detainees, Rumsfeld said.
But in the wake of the bin Laden raid, some current and former officials directly involved in the interrogation program have questioned the effectiveness of those tactics, saying at least one of those detainees lied and withheld information after being waterboarded.
The U.S. raid that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad badly damaged Pakistani-American relations already frayed since January, when a CIA contractor killed two Pakistanis in the city of Lahore. That incident infuriated the Pakistani army over what it claimed were American spies operating in the country and prompted Pakistan to demand a reduction in U.S. military personnel there.
Rumsfeld says he believes assertions by Pakistan that leaders had no idea the terror mastermind was hiding there. However, he said Pakistani officials should not be surprised or dismayed that they weren't warned about the raid because U.S. troops have made other unannounced visits.
"They are aware we might do it if we have a high-value target, and they invariably have to say something about it politically," Rumsfeld said. "(In the past) we've gone in and we don't tell (Pakistan) specifically because they don't need to know, and when people's lives are at risk, need-to-know is the critical element. ... When you're dealing with the top of al-Qaida, it's important to know that you got him, and you can't do that unless you're on the ground."
On Friday, Obama visited CIA headquarters to congratulate the country's intelligence workers for the years of effort that led to the discovery and killing of bin Laden. He previously met the helicopter pilots and Navy SEAL team involved in the raid.