THE BLOG

Still in the Dark

12/31/2012 10:18 am ET | Updated Mar 02, 2013
  • Dr. Charles G. Cogan Associate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School

In all the Sturm und Drang over who provided the information about the courier who led to Osama bin Laden and in particular whether he was tortured, the most curious element is the following phrase from an April 11, 2012 memo written by the Senate overseers of the military and the Intelligence Community, Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain: "The CIA detainee who provided the most significant information about the courier provided the information prior to his being subjected to coercive intelligence techniques."

What was this significant information? We are not told, but we are told what it was not: It was not the courier's true name or location, and it was not about the house in Abbottabad, where bin Laden was staying. The April 11, 2012 memo was based on a review of six million pages of documents related to the bin Laden case, provided by the Intelligence Community to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The reference to the April 11 memo is contained in a letter dated Dec. 19 by the three senators to Michael Lynton, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment. It begins with the following sentence: "We write to express our deep disappointment with the movie Zero Dark Thirty. We believe the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Usama bin Laden."

A more nuanced position was taken by the acting director of the CIA, Michael Morrell in a statement issued two days later, on Dec. 21, 2012, of which the following is an excerpt:

"Second, the film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin. That impression is false. As we have said before, the truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad. Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved."

So what are we left with? The key word, it seems to me, is "key." Torture was not the key element of information in the operation that led to the killing of bin Laden. But we still don't know the whole story. We're still in the dark. And there may be good security reasons for that to remain so.

As Morrell points out, the effectiveness of torture remains a matter of debate. To paraphrase the axiom on flattery, "Those who say that torture will get you nowhere have never been tortured."

Torture is now a thing of the CIA past. It rose up in the fury and frenzy against the man who had committed the blackest act in American history. Harking back to that event is a poem I wrote the day after 9/11:

"Insolent Sky"
Insolent sky.
So blue.
So pristine.
So insolent.

Beautiful weather
Beautiful scene
Smashed images
Footage so rare
It could not be displayed.

Someone said it was a
pyrotetchnic work of art,
Then retracted his
malapropism.

It was the worst thing
that ever happened to us
as a people.

We must never forget
We must always attack
Those who kill innocents.
Mercilessly.
From now on.

No amount of arrogance
However perceived,
Can ever excuse
The murder of innocents.

Déchiqueté day.
Déchiqueté day.

N.D.L.R. Déchiqueté is a French word meaning mutilated.

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