Two Must-Reads On Torture: Andrew Sullivan And Matthew Alexander
Matthew Alexander is a pseudonymous former US interrogator who, in post-Abu Ghraib Iraq, used techniques that led to the capture of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. His wrote How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq. Alexander, who will be on radio with me Thursday night, shows how claims that waterboarding was used to lead to bin Laden are false.
In fact, the information about the existence of a courier working for bin Laden was provided by several detainees, not just waterboarded al Qaeda operatives Kalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi — we had one detainee in Iraq who provided information about a courier in 2006. The key pieces of information, however, were the courier’s real name and location. His family name was first uncovered by CIA assets in Pakistan through other sources. The NSA subsequently figured out his full real name and location from an intercepted phone call. Waterboarding had nothing to do with it.
Moreover, common sense dictates that all high-ranking leaders have couriers — and their nicknames do little to lead us to them. This is because many members of al Qaeda change names or take on a nom de guerre after joining for both operational security and cultural reasons.
[A] Qaeda operative named Hassan Ghul, captured in Iraq, … 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 torture 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 torture, if any, would have been brief.
Or, as Sullivan put it:
We don’t know what was done to this “quite cooperative” source of information, but the very fact that he was “quite cooperative” suggests that torturing him, if that is what was done, was unnecessary. This was 2004. We only found and killed bin Laden Monday. This was no ticking time-bomb scenario in any way – the slim exception to the rule used to create a torture bureaucracy. There was no need to torture. None whatsoever.
Then on to Abu Faraj al-Libi and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, both tortured by the Bush administration. What we know is that the result of torture was a repeated denial by both of them that the key courier in question was relevant, let alone any details about him
KSM was asked about Kuwaiti in 2003 and said he was retired and not important. Libi said he didn’t now Kuwaiti when questioned in 2005 and gave a different name for bin Laden’s courier, which turned out to be false.
The American war criminals then argue that although neither torture victim gave up the correct information, and one gave an entirely false lead, it was their refusal to tell the truth that proves torture worked! Seriously. It was the failure of torture to get accurate information that proves the validity of the torture! And here you see the psychology of the torturer in graphic light. They know what they did was inexcusable, un-American, evil. And so it must be justified in their minds.
Truths gained from torture legitimize it; lies gained from torture legitimize it. The torturer can pick and choose. This is not a reasoned argument; it is a form of self-exculpation after committing evil that will haunt these torturers to the end of their days, as it should.
And yet the right has used all of its oxygen in the days since the death of bin Laden scrambling to justify torture, way out of proportion to its value. And it clearly did not lead, as Congressman Peter King claimed, “directly” to the capture and death of Osama bin Laden.Click here for reuse options!
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