Did the enhanced interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi (who was not waterboarded and was captured after the enhanced interogation program was suspended) and other Gitmo detainees lead to the information that led to bin Laden? The fog of war blows in from the left as Marcy Wheeler concludes that, since we can't prove that enhanced interrogation was helpful, we must assume that it wasn't. Well, she dresses that up a bit:
The AP has confirmed that intelligence leading to the courier that in turn led to Osama bin Laden came from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and–as I surmised earlier–Abu Faraj al-Libi while in CIA custody. But partly because of the language AP uses to describe this–and partly because the wingnuts love torture–many are drawing the wrong conclusion about it.
We looked at this earlier ourselves. As to whether the efficacy of enhanced interrogation is a wrong conclusion, or simply an inconvenient truth, well, who can say? (As an aside, I am sure there are many who won't believe a word out of Obama's mouth on this subject; there are surely a comparable number who know that anything Dick Cheney says about this is a self-serving lie.)
Ms. Wheeler extracts a timeline from the various official comments and concludes that
...while the CIA may have learned the courier’s nickname earlier, they didn’t learn his true name until “four years ago”–so late 2006 at the earliest. And they didn’t learn where the courier operated until around 2009.
From these dates we can conclude that either KSM shielded the courier’s identity entirely until close to 2007, or he told his interrogators that there was a courier who might be protecting bin Laden early in his detention but they were never able to force him to give the courier’s true name or his location, at least not until three or four years after the waterboarding of KSM ended. That’s either a sign of the rank incompetence of KSM’s interrogators (that is, that they missed the significance of a courier protecting OBL), or a sign he was able to withstand whatever treatment they used with him.
Well, it may be rank incompetence, or it may be that, since KSM was captured in March 2003, he simply didn't know the location or operational procedures of this courier as of 2006. In fact, it's easy to speculate that KSM may not have been aware that this particular protege had been promoted after his capture.
As to whether KSM protected his protege's real name, maybe he just didn't know it - if, at the time of KSM's capture the courier was just a low-level operative with potential, good operational security should have included not passing his name around the organization. At some point he would need to be fully vetted (we have a mental image of an al Qaeda operative touring his home village running a background check) but why do we presume this would have happened prior to KSM's capture?
One might expect that Abu Faraj al-Libbi, as the successor to KSM, knew more about this courier. Al-Libbi was captured in May 2005; per Marc Thiessen (excerpted here) the enhanced interrogation program was suspended shortly thereafter, but al-Libbi may have been subjected to some rough treatment while in Pakistani custody or a US secret prison prior to his transfer to Gitmo [the WaPo says he was, below, and Thiessen can be read as confirming that.]. And maybe it will be argued that suspension of the program delayed his release of information about the courier - I have no idea whether that is true, which puts it on as strong a foundation as the Wheeler speculation. But let's include this from the AP:
In a secret CIA prison in Eastern Europe years ago, al-Qaida's No. 3 leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, gave authorities the nicknames of several of bin Laden's couriers, four former U.S. intelligence officials said. Those names were among thousands of leads the CIA was pursuing.
One man became a particular interest for the agency when another detainee, Abu Faraj al-Libi, told interrogators that when he was promoted to succeed Mohammed as al-Qaida's operational leader he received the word through a courier. Only bin Laden would have given al-Libi that promotion, CIA officials believed.
If they could find that courier, they'd find bin Laden.
Hmm. No word on the timing or circumstances of that revelation.
Interrogation of one Qaeda operative led to tips on finding others, until the leadership of the organization was decimated. Removing from the scene such dedicated and skilled plotters as Mr. Mohammed, or the Indonesian terrorist known as Hambali, almost certainly prevented future attacks.
People knew that piecing together the Al Qaeda org chart was helpful. However, these were not controlled experiments, so we won't know who would have talked anyway, who would not have, and who talked out of fear of being subjected to treatment that was never administered.
It is clear that KSM was held in secret prisons and waterboarded, and that al-Libbi was held in secret prisons; it is being reported that both provided critical clues that eventually led to bin Laden. To conclude from those facts that enhanced interrogation was not instrumental in cracking the case is a bit of a leap, just as it would be a leap to conclude that enhanced interrogation was essential.
FROM THE WAPO:
Libbi was held at CIA “black sites,” or secret prisons, where he was subjected to harsh questioning, which the George W. Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
CYA AT THE CIA: Do keep in mind - today, following the Osama success, the CIA is run by Washington's golden boys. But it was only a few years back that they were worried that Eric Holder would be prosecuting them. If I were a CIA officer worried that the wheel might turn again, I would be very quick to leak that the enhanced interrogation program was important, whether it was or not.
It would be interesting to know the truth. I assume Obama will lie about this in his eventual book but (if enhanced interrogation really was critical) it would be interesting to read an honest account of the sale and leaseback of his soul.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE IN THE TIMES: From the NY Times tick-tock:
Years before the Sept. 11 attacks transformed Bin Laden into the world’s most feared terrorist, the C.I.A. had begun compiling a detailed dossier about the major players inside his global terror network.
It wasn’t until after 2002, when the agency began rounding up Qaeda operatives — and subjecting them to hours of brutal interrogation sessions in secret overseas prisons — that they finally began filling in the gaps about the foot soldiers, couriers and money men Bin Laden relied on.
Prisoners in American custody told stories of a trusted courier. When the Americans ran the man’s pseudonym past two top-level detainees — the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; and Al Qaeda’s operational chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi — the men claimed never to have heard his name. That raised suspicions among interrogators that the two detainees were lying and that the courier probably was an important figure.
So do we credit enhanced interrogation of others? Do we really believe that KSM and al-Libi never cooperated on this identification?
TACKLING IT HEAD-ON: The Times takes a look and sees little:
Harsh Methods Of Questioning Debated Again
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.
Well, the Times is totally in the tank on this question. A bit more:
According to an American official familiar with his interrogation, Mr. Mohammed was first asked about Mr. Kuwaiti in the fall of 2003, months after the waterboarding. He acknowledged having known him but said the courier was “retired” and of little significance.
In 2004, however, a Qaeda operative named Hassan Ghul, captured in Iraq, gave a different account of Mr. Kuwaiti, according to the American official. Mr. Ghul told interrogators that Mr. Kuwaiti was a trusted courier who was close to Bin Laden, as well as to Mr. Mohammed and to Abu Faraj al-Libi, who had become the operational chief of Al Qaeda after Mr. Mohammed’s capture.
Mr. Kuwaiti, Mr. Ghul added, had not been seen in some time — which analysts thought was a possible indication that the courier was hiding out with 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.
Armed with Mr. Ghul’s account of the courier’s significance, interrogators asked Mr. Mohammed again about Mr. Kuwaiti. He stuck to his story, according to the official.
After Mr. Libi was captured in May 2005 and turned over to the C.I.A., he too was asked. He denied knowing Mr. Kuwaiti and gave a different name for Bin Laden’s courier, whom he called Maulawi Jan. C.I.A. analysts would never find such a person and eventually concluded that the name was Mr. Libi’s invention, the official recalled.
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.
Because Mr. Mohammed and Mr. Libi had both steered interrogators away from Mr. Kuwaiti, C.I.A. officials concluded that they must be protecting him for an important reason.
“Think about circles of information — there’s an inner circle they would protect with their lives,” said an American official who was briefed on the C.I.A. analysis. “The crown jewels of Al Qaeda were the whereabouts of Bin Laden and his operational security.”
The accumulating intelligence about Mr. Kuwaiti persuaded C.I.A. officials to stay on his trail, leading to the discovery of his real name — which American officials have not disclosed — and whereabouts. He in turn unwittingly led the agency to Bin Laden’s lair, where Mr. Kuwaiti and his brother were among those who died in Monday’s raid.
So we don't know whether Ghul talked after being enhanced, we don't know if al-Libi lied after not being enhanced - really conclusive stuff here.