The New York Times quickly moved to quash suggestions that “enhanced interrogation” like waterboarding may have yielded useful intelligence in the killing of Osama bin Laden. Moving to protect the paper’s ideological investment that such methods are both brutal and ineffective was Wednesday’s front-page defense by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage, “Harsh Methods Of Questioning Debated Again.”
The reporters seems awfully assured, based on vague and contradictory information, in their attempt to discredit the idea that "brutal interrogations" (a phrase at the top of the article's first sentence) and "torture" like waterboarding may have yielded useful intelligence. They also ignored C.I.A. director Leon Panetta's admission to anchor Brian Williams on Tuesday's NBC Nightly News after the anchor asked him if waterboarding helped obtain information that led to bin Laden: "I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know-they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees."
Did brutal interrogations produce the crucial intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden?
As intelligence officials disclosed the trail of evidence that led to the compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden was hiding, a chorus of Bush administration officials claimed vindication for their policy of “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding.
Among them was John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who wrote secret legal memorandums justifying brutal interrogations. “President Obama can take credit, rightfully, for the success today,” Mr. Yoo wrote Monday in National Review, “but he owes it to the tough decisions taken by the Bush administration.”
But a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. One detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier, according to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment -- including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times -- repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity.
The Times pitted “conservatives” against “human rights advocates” while using strong language like "torture," "harrowing," and "brutal" (again) to describe the interrogations.
The discussion of what led to Bin Laden’s demise has revived a national debate about torture that raged during the Bush years. The former president and many conservatives argued for years that force was necessary to persuade Qaeda operatives to talk. Human rights advocates, and Mr. Obama as he campaigned for office, said the tactics were torture, betraying American principles for little or nothing of value.
Glenn L. Carle, a retired C.I.A. officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002, said in a phone interview Tuesday, that coercive techniques “didn’t provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information.” He said that while some of his colleagues defended the measures, “everyone was deeply concerned and most felt it was un-American and did not work.”
The Times got into the weeds on the complicated and vague claims involving the C.I.A.’s treatment of the Qaeda operative Hassan Ghul, and Abu Faraj al-Libi, who had become operational chief of Al Qaeda after the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The vague information presented by the Times hardly justifies its confidence that harsh interrogation played only a small role at most in the chain leading to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The details of Mr. Ghul’s treatment are unclear, though the C.I.A. says he was not waterboarded. The C.I.A. asked the Justice Department to authorize other harsh methods for use on him, but it is unclear which were used. One official recalled that Mr. Ghul was “quite cooperative,” saying that rough treatment, if any, would have been brief.
Again, the C.I.A. has said Mr. Libi was not waterboarded, and details of his treatment are not known. But anticipating his interrogation, the agency pressured the Justice Department days after his capture for a new set of legal memorandums justifying the most brutal methods.