The Osama bin Laden Trail Shows Waterboarding Didn’t Work

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. Here’s what the AP says:

Current and former U.S. officials say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, provided the nom de guerre of one of bin Laden’s most trusted aides. The CIA got similar information from Mohammed’s successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Both were subjected to harsh interrogation tactics inside CIA prisons in Poland and Romania.

Note what AP says: KSM provided the courier’s nom de guerre. The CIA got similar information from al-Libi. And they were tortured. The AP does not say torture led to this information.

Here’s what a senior administration official said last night about when they got the intelligence on the courier.

Detainees gave us his nom de guerre or his nickname and identified him as both a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of September 11th, and a trusted assistant of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the former number three of al Qaeda who was captured in 2005.

Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden. They indicated he might be living with and protecting bin Laden. But for years, we were unable to identify his true name or his location.

Four years ago, we uncovered his identity, and for operational reasons, I can’t go into details about his name or how we identified him, but about two years ago, after months of persistent effort, we identified areas in Pakistan where the courier and his brother operated. [my emphasis]

In other words, 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.

With al-Libi, the connection between whatever torture he experienced and this intelligence is less clear (since he was first detained in 2005), but even with al-Libi, it appears clear he either never revealed the courier’s real name or only did so after he had been in custody for a year, and almost certainly until after he arrived in Gitmo.

Update: Putting the AP’s reporting here together with the DAB, it seems like al-Libi did give up the name, perhaps earlier than reported. But still not waterboarding.

Either these men didn’t know the true name of their protégé and assistant (which is highly unlikely), or they managed to withhold that information even under torture.

In fact, two people who normally would be crowing about the success of torture are not now doing it. Donald Rumsfeld suggests the discovery of OBL came from intelligence gained at Gitmo (therefore, not in Poland or Romania). And while Cheney assumes enhanced interrogation aka torture led to OBL, he admits he doesn’t know where the intelligence came from; given that he was ordering up propaganda reports along the way to justify his torture program, yet can’t claim definitively that the intelligence came from it, is a pretty good tell that he can’t say it did.

If KSM and al-Libi revealed details about the courier (and al-Libi’s Gitmo file suggests he did; KSM’s, which is dated two years earlier, does not), they shielded the most important information about him for years.

All of which sort of makes you wonder whether the FBI’s KSM expert could have gotten it out of KSM had he ever interrogated him.

  1. nextstopchicago says:

    Thanks. I have to admit, I’m really relieved to hear this. I oppose torture on other grounds, but I know the argument would be tougher to sustain if the evidence had come from torture.

    EW, since you distinguish between Gitmo and Romania and Poland (which were mentioned in some of the right-wing reports crowing about torture this morning), does that mean that by 2005 when al-Libi was detained, there was no longer torture at Gitmo, though there may still have been torture at “black sites”?

    • emptywheel says:

      There was clearly isolation. They clearly used gimmicks to use sleep deprivation. But it wasn’t exclusively the CIA program and it got more oversight.

  2. Jason Leopold says:

    Several months ago, I spoke to some Guantanamo folks who told me in 2006 KSM was rushed out of the secret camp he was in into an ambulance with “chest pains” and hospitalized. Tried to confirm with DOD at the time but they said anything related to KSM is classified. Perhaps it is nothing and I’ve never been able to fully confirm it but just thought it may be worth mentioning

      • Jason Leopold says:

        that was the speculation. But I should also add that some Guantanamo folks thought the seizure may have been due to some of the drugs he was given upon arrival. Drugs on the SOP for detainees. But you’re right–no hint of couriers as key by 12/06.

        And I DID NOT pick up on the dep cmdr signing the DAB! That’s interesting. I’m just starting to carefully go through the DAB now as I only read it once quickly last week.

  3. Jason Leopold says:

    correction anywhere from Sept 6 to mid-October 2006 and it was actually a seizure that KSM allegedly suffered. He was taken from Camp 7 to a detainee hospital inside of Camp Delta

  4. IntelVet says:


    The AP does not say torture led to this information.

    Is it possible to force a public “clarification”?

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    How much more might we have learned sooner, at how much less cost to ourselves and our detainees, had we not devoted ourselves to torture?

  6. emptywheel says:

    Here’s AP w/more details:

    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.


    It took years of work for intelligence agencies to identify the courier’s real name, which officials are not disclosing.

    al-Libi’s DAB names that courier as Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan.

    • Jason Leopold says:

      Great work going through al-Libi’s DAB. Do you have a theory of who the other detainees are, if any? Or do you think just KSM and al-Libi?

      • emptywheel says:

        I’m wondering if there was someone close to Mullah Obaidullah who gave some intell (or Obaidullah himself, to the Pakistanis, which would be 2007). There’s this that appears in a footnote in the DAB:

        In TD-314/54704-04, TD-314/54644-04, detainee met with Taliban
        Defense Minister Mullah Obaidallah to establish a formal chain for passing financial support to the Taliban.

        That can’t be al-Libi, bc he wasn’t in custody in 2004. It can’t be Obaidallah, bc he wasn’t in custody until 2007. So who is that from?

    • MadDog says:

      …al-Libi’s DAB names that courier as Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan.

      EW, might need a correction here. Just saw this over at the NYT:

      Aide Who Led to Bin Laden Was Kuwaiti-Born Courier

      Three U.S. officials say American forces were led to Osama bin Laden by his most trusted courier, a Kuwaiti-born man named Sheikh Abu Ahmed.

      Ahmed was a shadowy figure for U.S. intelligence, someone it took many years to identify. For a long time, intelligence officials knew him only by his nom de guerre, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti…

      (My Bold)

      • Jason Leopold says:

        Interesting. A reference to him in Walid Said Bin Said Zaid 2008 DAB.

        Mohamedou Ould Salahi, ISN US9MR-000760DP (MR-760) reported
        Shaykh Abu Ahmed, aka (Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), was wounded while fleeing Tora
        Bora and later died in the arms of detainee.52 Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti was a mid-
        level al-Qaida operative who facilitated the movement and safe haven of senior al-Qaida members and families.53

  7. orionATL says:

    i am glad you are tackling this,ew.

    my reading of the usual suspects news sources today left me with the sense that wherever “the story of the the courier” showed up there was a clear unstated positive assumption that torture may have helped.

    it will be interesting to see if there is an official denial that torture was involved (if it wasn’t).

  8. nextstopchicago says:

    slightly off topic. This msnbc “animation” (I know, I know) shows 20 people inside the compound firing at 23 Americans. I don’t know that there’s any source at all for this. It’s interesting anyway, since just seeing all the people represented, even as dots, reminded me of the question of what was done with the supposed 18 prisoners, how they were brought back if they were. It’s a lot of people for a single helicopter, if a single helicopter is the assumption.

    They have a semi-witness quoted, someone who looks western but speaks with an accent that’s, oh, vaguly Pakistani to my ears, who talks about hearing bangs and then seeing an orange glow in the sky.

    • emptywheel says:

      There were 22 killed or captured in the compound (Brennan said there were 5 deaths: OBL, his son Khalid, his wife who shielded him, and the courier and his brother). So that’d leave 17 alive, w/possible more women/girls among them.

      And there were two dozen SEALs, apparently.

      So 22 versus 24 or so, with the former including some probable non-combatants.

      • emptywheel says:

        Oh wait, 79 total involved in the raid.

        The team blew it up and called in one of two backups. In all, 79 commandos and a dog were involved in the raid.

        Though presumably a number of those were flying the two backup choppers?

        • MadDog says:

          …Though presumably a number of those were flying the two backup choppers?

          Got to be because the Black Hawk is only capable of carrying “11 troops with equipment”.

        • MadDog says:

          Oh wait, 79 total involved in the raid…

          Just my SWAG here, but that total of 79 was likely composed of those 22-25 Navy Seals backed up by a platoon of Army Rangers.

          From what I understand, this type of mixed branch composition is the norm for certain Special Operations. The theory is to have the specialists (Navy Seals) do the primary work and mount the attack, and for a more generalized, heavily-armed group like an Army Ranger platoon to provide backup if more opposition is encountered.

    • ottogrendel says:

      Thanks for the link.

      What sick, Fascist propaganda. Nice video game version of the official narrative.

      Brian Williams: “The man who changed the way we have to live in this country.”

      Un-fucking-believable. What does this bullshit say about the supposed power of the richest, strongest nation on earth? Are we admitting that the likes of OBL can force the hand of the US? Is this forced hand what victory looks like? Same old story from the bosses: All of the power yet none of the responsibility. That meme is how you recognize corruption. And the GWOT has always been mainly about domestic control.

      BW: “He was villainized. He became something of a cartoonish, cave-dwelling creature over time.”

      Nice passive voice from the talking heads who created the cartoon and who gave us this Emmanuel Goldstein in the first place.

      A pattern that I see in many of the comments on FDL and elsewhere recently is the articulation of an homogenous profile of OBL as evil-incarnate, super villain. A few of the descriptions of him on other posts sound like he came straight out of the pages of a fucking comic book. And this two-dimensional picture of our national boogeyman matches exactly with the one the TV shows us over and over during the Two Minutes Hate. How many of us take his guilt for granted and internalize the relevant “evidence,” just like the TV tells us to think. The MSNBC news clip shows us exactly what it is and how it is done.

        • ottogrendel says:

          This is the debate that has been going on in many other posts on FDL today, covered well in Earl of Huntingdon’s and Peterr’s. For my money, Peterr said it best: “Justice is about what society does, not what an alleged criminal has done.”

          It is not just a question of guilt but who and how that guilt is decided. It is about the validity and value of the collective institutions established to deal with these issues. It is about whether the rule of law serves the good of the group or the whims of those with power. It is about whether or not the executive is the law. It is about the effects of the endless stream of the Two Minutes Hate on our collective consciences. It is about crushing effects of fear and ignorance, and the trading away of thought and freedom as we grasp after the semblance of safety held out by unchecked authority figures to assuage the very fear and ignorance they promote. It is about looking into the abyss and how it looks back into you. It ain’t about OBL. It’s about us.

          The guilt or innocence of a TV boogeyman pales in comparison to those concerns.

        • DWBartoo says:

          Bin Laden is the devil who made us do it? Bin Laden cleverly tortured our responses out of us, here, as well as “over there” … without him the “Homeland” would never have squandered, wasted, or destroyed a single thing, honest.

          “Guilt” in its larger totality at this point, eCAHN, considering what has occurred these last ten years, is hardly something that has distinct “limits”. Better we examine actual “consequence”, and see what “that” might tally …

          Perhaps “our” soon-to-be patented excuse will be that “we” are not as evil as “they” are?


      • nextstopchicago says:

        >Nice video game version of the official narrative.

        Even more so after I read I think in CNN, that “the only 4 combatants” were killed, meaning that the visualization on MSNBC showing 20 ‘defenders’ in the compound was nonsense.

        • ottogrendel says:

          Nonsense for sure.

          I don’t watch TV at home and try not to see it elsewhere. After not watching what passes for TV news for awhile, that MSNBC propaganda packs a whollup. Its intent is so clear when you are not desensitized to it. And seeing the pics of the jubilant crowds in DC online . . . This whole thing is a fucking madhouse.

  9. nextstopchicago says:

    Ah, two backup choppers.

    I was aware of the rough numbers of people, but I still hadn’t really thought of it spatially, geometrically, till seeing this. Without believing it’s depiction, it made me think of the operation in a new dimension.

  10. orionATL says:

    at the article mzchief cites @27

    there is this interesting comment:

    [ Let’s turn the problem on its

    Submitted by x7o on Mon, 05/02/2011 – 22:17.

    Let’s turn the problem on its head, and wonder if the release of the GTMO files forced the US to field an operation because of compromised intelligence.

    Login or register to post comments ]

    • clemenza says:

      The Wikileaks info on Bin Laden whereabouts was released
      months and months ago. I never heard it mentioned in the MSM
      and nobody seemed to care.

      • orionATL says:

        the guantanamo docs were released months ago?

        i thought ex-wikileaker daniel d-b put them up for reading fairly recently.

        one would presume they would have been of keen interest to bin laden and his friends to learn who had revealed what to the americans, especially anything related to bin laden’s hideout.

      • mgvillablanca2 says:

        The information that led to Bin Laden’s killing was obtained almost 4 years ago (according to CIA officials)or you really think the name iof the courrier was obtained when Obama got elected?

        It’s been made public already that the CIA lost track of the courier for quite a while until they found him in Pakistan.

        So the story by Wikileaks is probably true. More believable than Obama’s rosy scenario at any rate.

  11. MadDog says:

    Per the American Forces Press Service:

    Bin Laden Buried at Sea, Official Says

    Osama bin Laden received a Muslim ceremony as he was buried at sea, a senior defense official said here today.

    The religious rites were performed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea, the official said, speaking on background, and occurred within 24 hours of the terrorist leader’s death.

    “Preparations for at-sea [burial] began at 1:10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and were completed at 2 a.m.,” the official said.

    The burial followed traditional Muslim burial customs, the official said, and bin Laden’s body was washed and placed in a white sheet.

    “The body was placed in a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker,” the official added.

    Afterward, Bin Laden’s body was placed onto a flat board, which was then elevated upward on one side and the body slid off into the sea.

    The deceased terrorist was buried at sea because no country would accept bin Laden’s remains, a senior defense official said…

  12. nextstopchicago says:

    More odd memes infiltrating coverage:

    1) both NYTimes and WaPost have subheads on their websites speculating that Afghans “fear” the US will decide to withdraw. Well, I’m sure there are some, but about the millions clearly hoping we’ll withdraw?

    2) that intel staffers focused on, as the Post puts it, “a relatively mundane” aspect of bin Laden’s milieu – a group of couriers. Surely that had to be the very first thought. He’s got to communicate somehow, and he knows phone lines are tapped, so he must have trusted go-betweens and go-fers. It’s hardly like they were looking at homely and obscure details of his life. This must have been the first line of investigation.

  13. MadDog says:

    As to the timing of this operation, Susan Donaldson James of ABC News has this juicy bit:

    …Sources told ABC News that President Obama authorized the bombing of a compound outside Islamabad in Pakistan last March, but worried about collateral damage and wanted evidence of bin Laden’s body and DNA evidence…

    …Instead, he authorized a daring operation for ground troops to enter the compound low to the ground and undetected. It was scheduled for Friday afternoon, but because of weather, was postponed until Sunday

    (My Bold)

    • MadDog says:

      And more from ABC News about previous attack plans:

      …In March, Obama authorized the development of a plan for the United States to bomb bin Laden’s compound with two B2 stealth bombers dropping a few dozen 2,000-pound bombs, sources tell ABC News. But when the president heard the compound would be reduced to rubble, he changed his mind because it would mean there would be no evidence to present to the world that the head founder and leader of al Qaeda was indeed dead. Plus, all 22 people in the compound including women and children and likely many neighbors would also be killed…

      (My Bold)

      A “few dozen 2,000-poung bombs”? Sheesh!

  14. nextstopchicago says:

    The Post article says “2 Chinook helicopters”. Wiki gives capacity as 33 to 55 troops. Presumably it’d be 33 with heavy packs but these guys were going in light so probably more like 55. Says that they returned in the 1 Chinook and another that was a back-up, though the other EW mentions was probably there or nearby too just in case.

    In their article “The Raid” CNN says “all 4 combatants” were killed, so perhaps any others in the compound were bystanders and kids.

  15. Jason Leopold says:

    Pervez Musharraf writes in his memoir (page 259): “Under interrogation (al-libi’s driver) revealed that he had rented a house in Abbotabad and that was where (al-libi ) was living right then. This man (the driver) had also kept his family there to provide cover for (al-libi). What he did not tell us is that there are actually three houses in Abbotabad that (al-libi) used.”

  16. MadDog says:

    On CNN’s John King’s show just now, former CIA Director (and NSA Director) Mikey Hayden confirmed that the courier leads came from CIA interrogations, and not those other interrogations at Guantanamo.

      • MadDog says:

        John King asked him whether the courier info came from Black Sites or at Guantanamo.

        At first, Mikey Hayden declined to specify, but then he relented and said that the courier info came from CIA interrogations rather than from interrogations at Guantanamo.

        • MadDog says:

          And I just watched Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC state that the courier information came from “Guantanamo detainees”, thereby reinforcing the meme-in-error that the courier information came from interrogations at Guantanamo.

          Somebody should tweet him about this post.

        • Jason Leopold says:

          Thanks for that. Last night on the background briefing call with “senior admin officials” they said “detainees” but did not specify where these detainees were. But I will also note that the CIA operated out of a camp called Secret Squirrel at Gitmo and conducted interrogations there as well.

          • MadDog says:

            When John King asked again whether the courier information was obtained at Black Sites, Mikey Hayden gave that answer I described above, but I didn’t note before that he nodded his head when he gave the answer that it came from “CIA interrogations rather than from interrogations at Guantanamo”.

            I took the nod and his answer to confirm that yes, it was from CIA Black Sites.

    • MadDog says:

      More confirmation from AP’s Kimberly Dozier via CBS News:

      One unwary phone call led US to bin Laden doorstep

      …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…


      …Mohammed did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic…

      • nonpartisanliberal says:

        Thank you. Not only did waterboarding not work, it likely delayed the revelation of that information for many months. KSM likely clammed up out of spite for his tormentors.

  17. Jeff Kaye says:

    It is immaterial whether or not the info gleaned from, it appears, al-Libi, which led to the capture/killing of Osama bin Laden, came from torture.

    It does not “prove” that torture works, or doesn’t work.

    The reason to oppose torture does not arise from its purported efficacy, but for moral, or sometimes from larger political and social reasons.

    To get tangled up in the efficacy argument pro/con torture is to play into Cheney’s hands.

    I wrote about what I call the utilitarian argument regarding torture at my blog back in ’08. Here’s a few points I made then:

    Torture is effective — short-term only — in terrorizing a society, as a form of mass societal terror and repression. This is why the U.S. uses it… make no mistake. But long-term… as pointed out just above, it turns the victims and their families against you. You can, as in Algeria, win the battle of Algiers, so to speak, and still lose the entire war and be driven out of the country, as happened to the French.

    I don’t like the “torture is ineffective” argument, personally. I find it is a utilitarian argument, not a moral argument. The truth is more nuanced than a simple yes or no, so susceptible to the passions of the moment (as after 9/11). Would torture be okay if it did reliably produce good intelligence? This is really the internal logic of the “ticking bomb” scenario writ large.

    Would we allow cannibalism if we found it could help feed the poor and hungry around the world? We could just allow cannibalism upon the very old and the terminally ill. Why is this unacceptable to us?

    Would slavery be tolerable if it produced an efficient economic system? (The latter was truly argued for some time in U.S. historical circles. See this link.)

    If we argue the merits of torture upon utilitarian lines, we end up in endless debates while those being tortured continue to suffer an unending hell, while the powerful parties of the imperial land contend over whether or not their suffering is palatable enough for them.

    We must end torture now. Not because it doesn’t work, and not because it may, someday, backfire upon the society that conducts it. Torture must end because in the collective consciousness of humanity it is seen as evil, as destructive of common human bonds, a universal anti-moralism that eats into the very core of spirit and soul, and antithetical to the communalistic ethos of men and women striving together to survive in the world.

    • emptywheel says:

      Right. But one of my points is that if you have incompetent/ignorant people in charge of interrogations, regardless the methods, they may hear the key piece of information (that OBL’s couriers may be protecting him) and have it be lost for 3 years or more).

      • MadDog says:

        I’d say that it’s likely that if you have just your run-of-the-mill intelligent folks, and not an EW, you are bound to miss a lot of dot connections. *g*

    • nextstopchicago says:


      If you’re willing to waive the option of pointing out that torture didn’t lead to bin Laden’s capture b/c you think there are better theoretical and moral grounds for opposing torture, I think you’re a little pie-in-the-sky for my tastes.

      I actually agree with you (and said up-thread) that I would oppose torture anyway. But it’s pretty clear that we’ll get destroyed in public opinion if we cede that point in reference to bin Laden’s capture. Why cede it for no reason? All evidence so far suggests that torture-derived information didn’t play a role.

      • Jeff Kaye says:

        First, to EW @53, I agree with you re the incompetence argument, and it’s difficult to believe that Bin Laden remained uncatchable for ten years. If he was being protected by ISI, well, that’s what NSA is for. Also, I’d say my moral argument about torture wasn’t aimed against anyone here in particular, much less yourself, but at memes being bandied about in the public arena right now.

        But since nextstopchicago and orionATL have brought it up, in well-meaning ways, then I may as well reply.

        First, we don’t know that torture didn’t play a role — or not — in the gathering of this information. If waterboarding was not involved, that doesn’t mean there weren’t other forms of torture used, especially the use of isolation. What do those who shudder to think that torture may have been involved think was going on at those CIA black sites? It wasn’t only waterboarding.

        Anyone who has worked with torture victims — and I just finished two assessments of torture victims, although only one involved interrogations — knows that sometimes torture will produce information. I’ve worked as a psychologist with people who have given up information because they were tortured, and I can tell you they are terribly burdened with guilt, and the arguments posed here that torture cannot ever “work” is positively harmful to these people, besides not being true.

        Of course, if a person has no information to give, they offer up gibberish and false leads, or false confessions. Additionally, those with intel, like KSM, also can offer up false leads or even false confessions (to things they weren’t guilty of, in addition to those they may have been guilty of). As Jason Leopold and I pointed out recently, the DoD/CIA/EIT/SERE program was made to produce false confessions and exploit prisoners for a number of purposes. Getting intelligence is only one of those purposes, and for the most part, is best left to the professional interrogators (those who don’t use torture or coercion), as they do a much better job.

        I don’t really care what public opinion thinks. Those of us who have been against torture have typically been in the minority, going all the way back to Voltaire arguing the case of Jean Calas in the 18th century.

        The truth is the only sword we have against tyranny and oppression. The other side knows that torture produces unreliable results (that is, crap mixed in with real intelligence). How many false leads did al-Libi or KSM throw up along with their few gems? Physical torture is known to increase the resistance of those who are ideologically committed. Psychological torture is aimed at breaking down a person’s personality, and trying to skim the intel quickly at the moment of breaking, before a person sinks into delirium or vegetative depression, or before they find a way to rally themselves.

        I could go on and on. There’s a huge literature on this subject.

        My point is a debate over the efficacy of torture is lost in partisanship over an issue over which there can be no partisanship. Torture is a crime against humanity, a jus cogens, as is slavery and genocide. As is stated in the UN Convention Against Torture:

        # No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
        # An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

        • MadDog says:

          I agree with you.

          I abhor the fact that those who argue about the efficacy of torture have already crossed the line.

          The simple fact is that it is wrong; morally, ethically, and yes, legally.

          The folks who would argue about the efficacy of torture are in my mind monsters themselves.

          And yes, monsters do indeed live among us.

        • orionATL says:

          thank you, jeff for your very informative comment.

          my comment stands on its own merits, and as well, on a good deal of human political history, most of it not involving torture at all.

          i was astonished and pleased to see this extraordinarily limiting, “no excuses accepted” paragraph in your comment:

          [ …# No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

          # An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture… ]

          no wonder cheney is frightened and pushed obama to protect him.

        • DWBartoo says:

          There is NO moral excuse FOR torture, as you have cleary explained, Jeff, and the argument which suggests that the use torture may claim some “practical” success, is an appeal to unfettered expediency, of the most base AND dishonest political sort. It is an emotional appeal to an essentially tribal mythology and uncritical “belief”. It is a form of magical thinking that distances those who would be convinced of the “success” of torture from acknowledging that the process of torturing is, a step-by-step dismantling the humanity of the torturer, as well as the calculated seeking of the destruction of the fundamental human integrity of another human being.

          To acceed to the suggestion of “success” is, essentially, to argue about the moral colorations of campaign button ribbons in a slaughterhouse. It is NOT a rational OR reasonable talking point, but a joining of hands down the slippery and increasingly steep slope to the free-fall of utter depravity.

          As soon as any point of “success” is accepted as legitimate by those who oppose torture, the so-called “argument” AND the moment is lost.

          The position you articulate so very well must never be retreated from, despite the howls and yappings of cultural hyenas and jackals …

          Semantic evasions cannot protect a society from inevitable consequence.

          Whatever resistance might arise from outside of a torturing society, to halt or limit such a society’s “advance” cannot, however severe, match the destruction of civilility and conscience which such a society inflicts upon itself. There is NO other truth.


        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Thank you. As John McCain knows from his own torture in POW camps, torture “works” in the sense that one subject to it long enough will almost always give up everything they know, the false along with the true. It’s a nightmare to wade through it, I’m sure, because you know that somewhere good intel might be buried in all the crap people will say to

          The legal, moral and political issue is that it is wrong, not just unnecessary and less effective than other proven interrogation techniques.

          That assumes, however, that a significant purpose of torture is to obtain valid intel. Other obvious purposes include wreaking vengeance, intimidation, and theatrically demonstrating to others besides the one(s) being tortured that you are a meaner sonofabitch than they are.

          The latter is using lives and the safety and health of your own people to score a political point. Those who do that deserve to be in jail before and for longer than those who torture. They are usually the labelers, the finger pointers who scream “bad apple”. They manipulate the system to get away with it. Mr. Obama joined them with his Look Forward, Not Back ™ policy, which validated and ratified their actions. That’s on his head.

          • Jeff Kaye says:

            Re the point about the problematic aspect of torture-produced intelligence (“crap”) is highlighted by rb137 in a diary currently at Daily Kos. She has looked deeply into the issue of the effects of torture, and reminds us that it often produces a condition known as confabulation, wherein the tortured person, in a state of cognitive overload, you could say, makes things up… and thinks them true. It’s an effect of immediate trauma, and a kind of dissociation.

            It’s another reason, for those looking for it, that torture produces problematic info. Another way to think of it is that it produces too much “noise”, from the standpoint of the immoral interrogator/torturer.

            One last thought, and that is that torture is also a production of a debased society, and our society is truly corrupt, with values turned upside down.

        • pdaly says:

          Here’s the March 2003 Wolf Blitzer CNN discussion between Alan “Torture Warrants” Dershowitz and Ken Roth. Blizter is asking whether the recently captured Khalid Shaikh Mohammed should be tortured for his information:

          BLITZER: All right. Ken, under those kinds of rare, extreme circumstances, does Professor Dershowitz make a good point?

          ROTH: He doesn’t. The prohibition on torture is one of the basic, absolute prohibitions that exists in international law. It exists in time of peace as well as in time of war. It exists regardless of the severity of a security threat. And the only other comparable prohibition that I can think of is the prohibition on attacking innocent civilians in time of war or through terrorism. If you’re going to have a torture warrant, why not create a terrorism warrant? Why not go in and allow terrorists to come forward and make their case for why terrorism should be allowed?

          Despite Dershowitz’ predilection to have the President or Supreme court judge approve torture, this is what Dershowitz says WRT KSM– in March 2003:

          BLITZER: Alan Dershowitz, a lot of our viewers will be surprised to hear that you think there are right times for torture. Is this one of those moments?

          DERSHOWITZ: I don’t think so. This is not the ticking-bomb terrorist case, at least so far as we know. Of course, the difficult question is the chicken-egg question: We won’t know if he is a ticking-bomb terrorist unless he provides us information, and he’s not likely to provide information unless we use certain extreme measures.

          So what does he suggest? Torture to find out if it is the ticking time bomb scenario?

          Roth’s (and Jeff’s) position has no circular caveats. And it is defensible.

    • orionATL says:

      i understand your point and agree with it,

      but do not neglect the fact, and it is a “fact” of human behavior, that an incorrect belief, aka urban legend,

      if left unchallenged

      can practically, functionally, destroy any chance that a fine argument like yours here has of influencing the behavior of a society.

      the stakes here are high; if torture was not involved or not effective, that needs to be pointed out – right now.

      in national politics, one of the gravest mistakes democrats have made is never to challenge and argue back

      PUBLICLY and LOUDLY!!!

      am i shouting?


    • wavpeac says:

      Yes!!! I love your point on this and we need to make it in response, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work well in a sound bite…Just because it works sometimes does not make it right.

      In fact, if we burned aborted babies for fuel, it might work. We could do lots of things without morals…I fear the folks that are led by greed, believe that if it works, it’s god, and it’s good.

  18. MadDog says:

    Yesterday there were folks wondering how it could be possible that Pakistan didn’t know about the US helicopter flights into Pakistan given Pakistan’s radar net.

    From that AP Kimberly Dozier piece on CBS News again:

    …Before dawn Monday morning, a pair of helicopters left Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. The choppers entered Pakistani airspace using sophisticated technology intended to evade that country’s radar systems, a U.S. official said…

    • MadDog says:

      And the final juicy tidbit from Kimberly Dozier:

      …U.S. forces searched the compound and flew away with documents, hard drives and DVDs that could provide valuable intelligence about al-Qaida, a U.S. official said…

    • nextstopchicago says:


      I’m more interested in the fact that Pakistan allowed a 40-minute firefight. They may not have known when the helicopters crossed the border, but they still had a lot of time to react.

      Your point is valid. But it doesn’t dampen my curiosity about what happened in the Pakistani hierarchy as this unfolded – at 1:00 am local time.

      I’m also a bit surprised that bin Laden wasn’t “defended in depth.” Meaning that he didn’t have anyone outside the compound tasked with firing in should something like this occur. He apparently had just the 2 courier brothers and his son (“Ives”?)

      • MadDog says:

        I’m more interested in the fact that Pakistan allowed a 40-minute firefight. They may not have known when the helicopters crossed the border, but they still had a lot of time to react…

        I can understand that question. I had similar thoughts last night. Let me take a swing at it.

        First of all, the time from start to finish of the operation has been stated by numerous Administration officials to be “less than 40 minutes”.

        A number of reports have stated that the majority of that “less than 40 minutes” was actually after the firefight, and was spent searching the compound for intelligence materials to take away.

        I’m guessing the firefight itself was less than 10 minutes, and probably around 5 minutes or even less.

        Given the time of night, the estimate of the “noisy period”, the actual remoteness of the compound itself (check the site via Google Maps and you’ll see that a great deal of it is actually rural/farming land), and given too that I don’t think the Pakistani law enforcement (or military) response time can necessarily be equated to the same law enforcement response time Americans are familiar with in major US cities, then I don’t find the lack of Pakistani response in those “less than 40 minutes” to be much of a surprise any longer.

    • orionATL says:

      no wonder they blew the one helicopter up.

      onion headline:

      u.s. demands return of helicopter pieces

      cites potential national security breech.


      the helicopter corp files suit against pakistan in world trade court

      demanding return of helicopter pieces on grounds of possible violation of laws regarding corporate proprietary information.

  19. joanneleon says:

    Hayden was just on CNN with John King saying almost exactly the same thing as the “senior administration official” said in that quote that you excerpted. He said that they got information about the courier from a detainee, not at Gitmo but at a CIA site, about four years ago.

    Another interesting thing is that when Brennan did the WH presser today, he said that until recently, they had not had any real intelligence about bin Laden’s location since Tora Bora.

    I guess both of these things could be true, but it was interesting.

    I also wondered why Hayden had so much current information since he hasn’t been the director of the CIA since February, 2009.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      He’s with Booz Allen Hamilton, non? That would mean he can get almost any intel he wants.

  20. eCAHNomics says:

    Regardless of whether torture extracted actionable info in this case, it’s very clear that torture is now permanently in the U.S. kitbag, and no one in the country cares, except for a few jerks like us.

  21. bobschacht says:

    Jumping ahead to hold the thought:
    CNN interview with Tom Freedman tonight–
    Freedman actually had a couple of good ideas for once:

    * Our day is July 4, not Sept 11! We need to refocus
    * We need a post-9/11 commission, to bring closure to the last 10 years so that we can move on. Sounds like me meant to include executive power grabs, erosion of civil liberties, and the whole 9 yards, as well as just what happened with the “war or terror”.
    (Actually, what we need is a war on the fear of terrorism that has led to a national nightmare for the last 10 years.)

    I really like the idea of Freedman’s post-9/11 commission (if I understand it correctly). And now is exactly the right time to do it.

    Bob in AZ

    • orionATL says:

      thanks, bob.

      this is the same tom friedman whose column head, a day or two after sept 11,2001


      “world war three”.

      it would have been better, maybe, if we had never lost our national focus in the first place, eh, tom?

  22. ottogrendel says:

    DW (@75),

    Our tortured responses from the devil who made us do it. Indeed.

    I think I’ve been following the plot all these years. The narrative insists that OBL’s objective was to goad the US into an imperial crusade in the Middle East and, via asymmetrical warfare, bleed it dry. Not being able to pay for foreign wars after becoming rich enough to farm out manufacturing and switch to a financed based economy is a big reason many empires have collapsed. Not only did the US respond accordingly, but also it upped the ante by quashing freedom domestically with the Dept. of Homeland Security, This was a pretty bad outcome, especially for all the people murdered in the Middle East over the last decade. Did the US have no other choice? And if not, what the fuck is the point of its accruing so much power and money? And now we crow about tossing the devil back to hell while we all insist that he was guilty as an article of faith? It’s the craziest shit I’ve ever stood still for.

    Perhaps the US can behave in no other way and just needed a villain for the suicide note?

    • DWBartoo says:

      Empires do end badly.

      It is simply that the damage possible now, given the unholy marriage of unfettered greed and unrestrained power which is the YouEssAy … may simply be beyond historical compare.

      Originaly, “boogeymen”, the “enemy”, were the owners of the greener grass or lusher pastures, next door, the possessors of something which the “leaders”, who had already appropriated the collective surplus, the common wealth, to their own purposes, “found” that “they” desired.

      The YouEssAy, since before WWII, determined that total hegemony over energy resources and complete control of the world would be its “lot” and fortune at the end of hostilities, which led, “inevitably” to the beginnings of the unitary executive.

      Were this a true democracy, possessed of a functioning rule of law, ottogrendel, then there might have been the opportunity of “choice” at various points along the curve of our “free-enterprise” trajectory. For a time, “we” were headed toward the heavens, on our way “up” … now in decline, and evermore swiftly on the way “down”, it must be anticipated, that should “we” not quickly, somehow, “change” direction, then likely “we” shall try to take “out” the world with those “bangs ” with which we can, so we pride ourselves in believing, destroy the whole place several times over.

      The rest of the world might well decide, however, that if we will not stop ourselves, if we will not seek to turn in another direction, that they, the rest of the world, will have to “help” us.

      Perhaps, then, “war” will really be …”peace”?

      Things may change for this nation and this society ONLY if hoi paloi INSIST upon it. After observing the celebratory response these last twenty-four hours, hopey for rational changey, any time soon, seems a wee bit premature.


  23. jukeboxgrad says:

    Rumsfeld himself (who should know) has said it was not torture that led to OBL:

    It is true that some information that came from normal interrogation approaches at Guantanamo did lead to information that was beneficial in this instance. But it was not harsh treatment and it was not waterboarding.

  24. seamoremonster says:

    Thanks for this. There are those in the online community who are currently crowing that bin Laden’s discovery was a direct result of torture. It’s nice to have a cogent argument to refute that claim. Thanks again.

  25. Phoenix Woman says:

    In case the GOP/Media efforts to pretend that Bush actually gave a shit about catching bin Laden get too much, here’s the antidote:

    July 4, 2006
    C.I.A. Closes Unit Focused on Capture of bin Laden

    WASHINGTON, July 3 — The Central Intelligence Agency has closed a unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, intelligence officials confirmed Monday.

    The unit, known as Alec Station, was disbanded late last year and its analysts reassigned within the C.I.A. Counterterrorist Center, the officials said.

    The decision is a milestone for the agency, which formed the unit before Osama bin Laden became a household name and bolstered its ranks after the Sept. 11 attacks, when President Bush pledged to bring Mr. bin Laden to justice “dead or alive.”


    Michael Scheuer, a former senior C.I.A. official who was the first head of the unit, said the move reflected a view within the agency that Mr. bin Laden was no longer the threat he once was.

    Mr. Scheuer said that view was mistaken.

    “This will clearly denigrate our operations against Al Qaeda,” he said. “These days at the agency, bin Laden and Al Qaeda appear to be treated merely as first among equals.”

    By the way, 2006 was when bin Laden moved into his Abbotabad compound. No cave for him!

  26. mgvillablanca2 says:

    Don’t mean to poop on your “peace” parade you Obamabots but WikiLeaks already proved that waterboarding one of the wild dogs you guys care about is what got the CIA the name of the courier.

    Of course, you Edited by Moderator automatons would rather drink the Kool Aid than reading news not approved by your beloved Leader.

    By the way, where’s the picture? Oh wait, if the Big O says OBL is dead, it has to be true.

    Edited by Moderator. Do not insult other commenters.

    • MadDog says:

      Don’t mean to poop on your “peace” parade you Obamabots but WikiLeaks already proved that waterboarding one of the wild dogs you guys care about is what got the CIA the name of the courier…

      As I noted in my comment at # 40 above, Kimberly Dozier of the AP has already documented exactly the opposite of what you claim:

      Mohammed did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic…

      (My Bold)

      Edited by Moderator back at ya’.

  27. radiofreewill says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the bin Laden trail walks back through the Pakistani Army to Musharraf…

    • DWBartoo says:

      Which would you prefer doing to someone else …?

      And would either “bother” you?

      Such a question as you ask … MUST raise other questions.

      Including “why” and for what “reason”?

      When I was young, the state in which I was growing up, advertised for executioners … for each and every execution, all of which were “performed” about ten miles from where my family was living.

      The consistently large number of willing “applicants” was simply staggering, revealing more about those who would happily execute another human being than many, or most, of the applicants ever seemed to realize and about their collective society, as well.


  28. stevepatriquin says:

    In this case, it is for the defense of country. You have a choice. Capture on battlefield, or kill them on battlefield. our interests are American. If we capture, we must get info. to protect our soldiers. If America does not have the stomach for war, do not enter them. having said that, soldiers should never be used to nation build. That is a progressive idea, that has mostly failed. I will accept the Marshall plan as the one and only time it was good.

    • DWBartoo says:

      Odd that our “defense” has limited both our freedom and our human choices.

      The last refuge … and all “that”, eh, steve?

      Since you’ve taken us “back” … you do remember certain questions raised at a place called Nuremberg?

      Of course, you do not see any similarity between then and “them” and now and ourselves … do you?

      How are our drones different from V-2 rocket attacks?

      Morally, ethically, or humanly?

      Delineate the ways, if you dare, steve.


  29. stevepatriquin says:

    I do not support the way we are fighting. You got me mixed up with someone else. I am an Iraqi war vet. I think our troops should be home, protecting our borders. Period. America can sustain itself, and be like George Washington. Neutral.

    • DWBartoo says:

      Thank you for the clarification, steve.

      What do you think of “leaders” who mislead?

      What did you think when you learned that the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” was a total fabrication?

      Or … that there never were any WMDs and that Saddam had nothing to do with 911, as our “leaders” well knew?

      I realize, from your comment, that Vietnam was not your war, it was mine, but in a larger sense it “belongs” to all of us, just as does your war – which was also premised upon lies. And then, should we all, those who understand, not “Remember the Maine”? Another deceit which led to the further deceit that enabled a war with the Phillipines. Our history is replete with such lies and such destructions – and “the troops” are always used to warrant “staying” … that all of the deaths to that point, whenever it is, were not “in vain”.

      Are we together in thinking that there MUST be consequence for those leaders who lie us into the hell and the consequence of “organized” mayhem?

      What do the generations who have been sent, through deceit and profiteering complicity, to kill or be killed in the service of the nation, really deserve?

      The powerful can continue their “foreign adventures”, at everyone else’s expense, only if the rest of us willingly and wearily … forget.

      And the next time the ruling class start with their lies? Who, if not you and I, will stand and say, “Never again!”?


      • stevepatriquin says:

        Remember the Maine. Some say we blew it up. Spain was torturing the Cubans. I do think that some of our wars are fought by our politicians for good hearted reasons. Having said that, we should go back to our early history and learn from it. We did not get involved with Napolean. Why? We were neutral. Lies? Iraq did have WMD at one time. He used it. BUT not against us. Our treasure is spent on people that do not want it, when it comes from our military. Look at the polls. Americans want out of Afghanistan, yet we send more troops. Does not compute. Liberals and true conservatives do not want unprovoked wars. The progressive movement started the nation building under Wilson, and has been undertaken for the last one hundred years. I agree with the tea party. Starve the beast. Keep the money in the states. States can not declare war. If a state wants to be socialist, so be it. If a state wants limited govt, so be it. The feds should be limited. War powers act should be repealed. Maybe the tenth amendment will be our saving grace.

        • DWBartoo says:

          My “service”, steve, was to refuse induction … it was to stand for principle, for reason, and for humanity. I understood a fair amount of the history of that part of the world, southeast Asia, especially during the time when it was engulfed in my father’s war, WWII.

          I also understood, as should all Americans, the honest and reasonable desire of a people for true freedom and independence from colonial rule.

          Your war was and is in a region carved and pillaged by empire, conquest, and heartless destruction … for thousands of years …

          There is no “good” war … and claims of “necessity”, except in geniune defense, not cunningly manipulated deceit, are, all of them, suspect and, mostly, lies, damn lies, and horrible, murderous damn lies.


  30. lefty665 says:

    Consider that torture/interrogation leads may be peripheral, and perhaps mostly cover story to distract from actual methods. The more we see, the harder it is to believe the Pacs were unaware of whose house that was. Big, secure, in sight of the national military academy in a city full of retired military in a country where they run the show. It strains credulity to think no one was interested in who that could be. The Pacs may not be our best friends, but they’re not dumb, and they are rightfully anxious about who is who, where and why.

    The NSA has a long history of being at its “best” against state systems (pre room 641a et al. anyway). It has had every reason to be interested in Pac communications for a long time. SIGINT begins to smell like the more likely main source.

    OTOH, some of the 911 guys lived in a motel in Laurel in the shadow of the Agency and watched NSA employees by the thousands come and go daily…but that was long, long ago in a democracy far, far away.

      • lefty665 says:

        We are a Repubic that is far far away.

        It may be a distinction without a difference anymore. I was informally referring to a time when we at least seemed to be freer, not to the formal description of our political structure.

        However, now that you raise the issue, the forms of Republic seem more illusion than meaningful these days. Recent decades have been increasingly ruled by an ultra rich elite with the toadying bipartisan complicity of elected Repubs and Dems in both Administrative and Legislative branches. That rule has been enforced by the judiciary they have nominated and confirmed. The Bill of Rights has been shredded, individual rights are not protected from a majority that has accepted, among many other things, executive authority for extra judicial execution of US citizens, and state secrets to hide wrongdoing. Corporate primacy over individual rights is being directly enshrined by the judiciary, and indirectly by permitting corporate preemption of individuals in elections.

        There is a good argument to be made that we have become a democracy with republican forms that have ceased to be functional. Curiously, hope may be that the 98% percent of the unrich, and getting unricher by the day, will exercise democratic majority rule to take control back from the 2% minority. I stand on my comment.

  31. DWBartoo says:

    Human history over some ten-thousand years suggests that the covetous few have always been able to cajole the majority into conquest, relying, ultimately, on the false argument known as “Argumentum ad baculum”, that is “Argument backed by a stick” which manifests itself as, “You’re either with us or against us!” …

    The purpose of which is to end all discussion and crush any dissent, suggesting that there is but one way “forward”.

    You will, perhaps, steve, remember those specific words, and, as well, who it was who uttered them?

    Those who pointed to the Golden Rule, that of NOT doing to others those things which one would not like done to oneself were drowned out by the tribal cheers of manifest destiny and the self-righteous shouts for vengence … against any convenient target, innocent or not.

    America cannot simply look inward, it has caused far, far too much destruction for any pious excuses it may claim to allow it to look away.

    The fate of our entire species hangs in the balance … and America, now, is the gravest threat to reason AND humanity on the planet.

    If America is to survive, and I mean that quite literally, then it must look outward as well as inward to its soul, and acknowledge what it has done. It then MUST change or it will BE changed, by whatever means the rest of the world’s human beings may deem necessary and appropriate.

    What do you imagine, following OUR example, those “means” might well include?

    As a warrior, retired or not, steve, the resposibility of and for that consideration falls to you in a very special way.

    You HAVE seen war, up close and personal, and I am certain that you have seen enough to understand its horror and, as well, it utter futility.

    You, whether you like it or not, are charged with the obligation of informing your fellow citizens that war is really something to be avoided, intentionally and conscientiously.

    You need to help other Americans understand that war CAN come to everyone -even to this nation and that it WILL come to this nation unless we choose, as individuals and as a society to end its ready embrace.

    The war, next time, may very well be HERE … of a certainty, if “we” do not change … then WAR will come here, and it will stay here until it has reduced this nation to smouldering ruins.

    Can you, steve, imagine that?


    • stevepatriquin says:

      Our next war will be civil, sadly. Man’s lust for power will be the reason.

      • DWBartoo says:

        Our next war has been raging since this nation was founded, steve, it is class war.

        And it is, most decidedly, not civil.

        (Incidently the Civil War was also a class war, having to do, as they ALL do, with money and with power … with preserving the rulers in their positions and “authority”.)


        • stevepatriquin says:

          tenth amendment. let the states rule. Like they are supposed to . Maybe it is destiny. We should be a beacon for the rest of the world with the way we live. Our way of life shouldn’t be forced down another countries throat. You can have individuals making it on their own, or a govt picking winners and losers. The history of govt. is not good. The states having the power is the key. Then the people can have 50 choices to move to. Best system in the world. Flawed? Perhaps. Perfect? No. Life is not for the perfect, but it is for the flawed. Choice is freedom.

          • lefty665 says:

            States rights, sure that’s the answer. Teabaggers don’t ever seem to get beyond Boston harbor. How’d those Articles of Confederation thingies work out anyhow?

            Bad bad government picking winners and losers, yeah sure, I’d much prefer the Koch brothers and Goldman Sachs do it. They’ve got such wonderful track records.

            Vote with your feet, there’s an enlightened political philosophy. It’s hard to find good trolls these days.