John McCain: KSM Lied Under Torture, Just Like I Did

John McCain has, on balance, a good op-ed in the WaPo refuting Michael Mukasey’s embrace of torture. McCain’s larger point is that our approach to the Arab Spring will have a key role in our ability to defeat terrorists, which is a point not being made vociferously enough. And while he places himself in the camp of people who believe the torturers and those who approved torture should not be prosecuted, he does have this to say of Mukasey’s claim that KSM’s torture produced intelligence that led to Osama bin Laden.

That is false.


In fact, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information. He specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married and ceased his role as an al-Qaeda facilitator — none of which was true.

While I’m glad McCain provided these additional details on the lies KSM told under torture, I’m a bit more interested in two other details McCain includes.

The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden — as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured.


According to the staff of the Senate intelligence committee, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden — was obtained through standard, noncoercive means.

The first bit of intelligence–that Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti was first IDed in another country–presumably introduces an entirely new detainee into the picture. Though the description “we believe was not tortured” must be viewed skeptically, as most of the other countries that were holding detainees do torture. This presumably happened no later than 2002, though, as Mohammed al-Qahtani talked about Abu Ahmed as an associate of KSM in 2002 and 2003.

It’s the other detail I find even more interesting: that info on Abu Ahmed’s real role and his real relationship with OBL came using “standard, noncoercive means.” This break in intelligence has fairly consistently been attributed to Hassan Ghul in tick tocks of the hunt for OBL. And while McCain doesn’t confirm that Ghul provided the intelligence, if he did, then consider what it probably means.

I have noted that a detainee who appears to be Ghul was held for six months–from January to August 2004–before the CIA started getting approval for his CIA-led interrogation. If the detainee who provided the key information on Abu Ahmed was Ghul and did so through noncoercive means, it means that Ghul’s interrogation before CIA got him–presumably, Ghul’s interrogation by military interrogators not using torture–yielded the key piece of information that would eventually lead to OBL. And (such a scenario would further imply) CIA insisted on taking custody and torturing him, even after he yielded information that would lead to OBL. Which might explain the legal sensitivities around Ghul’s torture, because if they got key info without torture the claims they based torture on would all be demonstrably false.

It’s all wildarsed speculation at this point, but such a scenario might explain why the torture apologists have been so vehement. Because one of their narratives, after all, is that they needed torture to get the key information. They needed torture, the torture apologists explained, because the standard interrogations done by the FBI and military weren’t effective. But McCain’s narrative suggests the possibility, at least, that for one of the few detainees interrogated at length by real interrogators first yielded the key piece of intelligence leading to OBL, after which the CIA ignored that intelligence and instead set about torturing a detainee who had already yielded crucial intelligence.

Update: McCain gave a version of this on the Senate floor today. He added details about the first detainee who gave information.

The first mention of the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as well as a description of him as an important member of Al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country. The United States did not conduct this detainee’s interrogation, nor did we render him to that country for the purpose of interrogation. We did not learn Abu Ahmed’s real name or alias as a result of waterboarding or any ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ used on a detainee in U.S. custody.

Note, it sounds like the US might have been involved in the interrogation, just not conducting it. Also interesting that we didn’t render that detainee to the other country. Pakistan? Jordan?

Also note this admission that Ibn Shiekh al-Libi was tortured (which of course we already knew).

It has also been reported, and the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee confirms for me, that a man named Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who had been captured by the United States and rendered to Egypt, where we believe he was tortured, provided false and misleading information about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programs. That false information was ultimately included in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s statement to the UN Security Council, and, I assume, helped to influence the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq.

43 replies
  1. mzchief says:

    Given that

    the CIA ignored that intelligence and instead set about torturing a detainee who had already yielded crucial intelligence.


    They needed torture, the torture apologists explained

    Yes, sadists would say stuff like that as well as many folks who engage in S&M/bondage “bedroom” “games.” I was once shocked to walk into a Capitol Hill party of some folks I did not know well to see what looked like an upright individual jail cell displayed as a centerpiece on the way to the hors d’œuvres. I quickly put 2+2 together as I approached and got a close look at the black leather apparatuses inside. The thing is that these “games” people play in their heads don’t stay locked in a closet or room in their homes. I am recalling as well a video by the Egyptian activists as they raided torture facilities (hat tip skekissesfrogs) and that shows an adjoining bedroom.

  2. Jim White says:

    Oh, my. It would appear that the old gluehorse finally has gone rogue. I wonder just how much play his disruption of the torture apologists’ narrative will get.

    Cue the Cheney propaganda machine in 5, 4, 3…

  3. harpie says:

    Not grammatically correct, perhaps, but:

    [The players] doth protest too much, methinks.

  4. onitgoes says:

    The fibbies have been claiming for years that torture doesn’t work; that standard interrogation combined with various criminal investigation techniques work better. No methodology is perfect, but almost any human can relate to the fact that, if you’re tortured, it’s likely at some point that you’ll say anything to make it stop. Like: 1+1=2.

    Torture porn is a big industry these days. Began with some tv show (24?) that I guess showed torture consistently “working” and “saving the day.”

    That show, I’m certain, was no “accident.” It was created by the so-called “liberal Hollywood” to sell torture porn to the rubes, in order to soften up citizens in finding it all very “normal” and “acceptable.” And guess what? It worked!!! Do you see many/any citizens protesting torture??? I sure don’t, and I’ve definitely had more conversations than I care to remember with citizens (have various pol persuasions) who basically *endorsed* and *agreed with* torture. Nifty!/s

    So when someone like McCain – who still is viewed with gravitas (why, I don’t know, but he is) – steps out of the shadowy world of torture porn and states that it doesn’t really work… well, golly-gosh.

    Someone’s gonna be slapped down soon, I would imagine. Truth telling? Factual reality? Coming from a Viet Nam War Vet who was, lessee, tortured, himself??? Eh – does the name Max Cleland ring a bell, Johnny-boy???

    • JTMinIA says:

      The show “24” was produced for Fox. Not exactly a Hollywood liberal organization. With that said, I completely agree as to the planned function of that show.

      Separately, I wonder if McCain has a Magic Eight-ball sort of gizmo that has “tell the truth” as one of the options. Every now and then he seems to do so, but it’s often hard to predict when he’ll do it. Or maybe he’s just annoyed with the rabid right for picking on his naked daughter.

      • Petrocelli says:

        JT !

        Methinks JohnnyMac has an Eight Ball now and again … then the magic begins !

      • harpie says:

        Letter From Hollywood: Whatever It Takes; Jane Mayer; The New Yorker; 2/19/07

        [The politics of the man behind “24”]

        [I can’t get the link right now for some reason.]

    • ottogrendel says:

      “Torture porn is a big industry these days. Began with some tv show (24?) that I guess showed torture consistently “working” and “saving the day.”

      Don’t forget “Lost”–that vessel of what Christian fundamentalists want you to know about their moral values and cosmology–and the episode in season one with the Iraqi ex-soldier. Has there ever been a prime time TV instance where torture did not work, where the police failed to beat an honest, accurate confession out of someone whose immediate guilt is never questioned?

      • onitgoes says:

        Has there ever been a prime time TV instance where torture did not work, where the police failed to beat an honest, accurate confession out of someone whose immediate guilt is never questioned?

        If there is, I am not aware of it, albeit I don’t watch a lot of tv. There are exceptions to this in crime & mystery novels; the better class of such fiction tend to more accurately depict how the real world works.

        I never watched the tv show, “Lost,” so I cannot comment on that show & the values it may have espoused or detailed.

        I also didn’t know that the W-era torture porn show, “24,” was produced by Fox, which speaks volumes to why it was made, esp the storyline proudly and unabashedly and unashamedly detailing how “torture WORKS”… of course in no may ever highlighting the more salient fact that torture is illegal, immoral and just plain wrong. I do know that show was extremely popular.

        • ottogrendel says:

          I recommend renting “Lost” and watching it as a cultural artifact in the same way you suggest “24” reflects and propagandizes torture as porn-cum-policy. My brother and I watched the first season of “Lost” on DVD when it first came out, neither of us knowing what it was about. After the first episode, we turned to each other and said, “Holy shit, its fundie Sunday School.”

          • onitgoes says:

            hmmmm…. well perhaps it’s worth a look, after all. I confess to knowing next to nothing about “Lost,” except that a brother of someone I work with had a main part (having no knowledge of any character, I don’t which role this person played). I think I caught about 20 min of one episode in about the 3rd season, which was incomprehensible at that point.

            As for “24,” I think I saw most of one of the earlier shows & was so totally disgusted & turned off by it’s torture-porn-iness that I never went back. I saw enough to “get it.” Not for me, thanks.

            There’s a British show that plays on my local PBS station called “MI-5,” which is about the British version of the FBI in this day & age of terrorism. True to most high-quality British tv programmes, “MI-5” has great acting, tight scripts & excellent production. But, for me, it’s just the UK version of torture/terrorism-porn. I’ve watched several episodes bc they are compelling, but then I got disgusted with that, too.

            I will add, though, that I give “MI-5” faint praise bc it does show main “good guy” characters getting killed, plus that “good guys” in this show don’t always prevail. At least there’s some modicum of reality in this one, which, I don’t believe was the case with “24” (but didn’t watch enough to know for sure).

            Lot of torture-porn these days, and not just in the USA, sadly.

        • lysias says:

          “24” went into production a few weeks before 9/11. I’d like to know what was up there.

          • onitgoes says:

            eh – didn’t know that. Since it was Fox, one does wonder if someone was nudged in a certain “creative artisitc” endeavor. We’ll never know, of course. Interesting, though.

            • harpie says:

              In case anyone’s interested, here’s a link for Mayer’s article about “24” I mentioned @16. I couldn’t get it from The New Yorker, for some reason, but someone reproduced the whole thing here:


  5. Petrocelli says:

    Those two are fairly alike, as their famous quotes demonstrate:

    JohnnyMac: Get Off My Lawn !

    OBL: Get Off My Sand !

  6. timr says:

    I do not believe that mccain is capable of lying on this issue. It is not about politics, it is about torture. He understands it because he was tortured. But even in NK and Vietnam along with China-the originator of torture by govt waaaay back in the day-have moved away from physical torture, and like Russia did back when they were still the USSR, they have moved on to much more reliable mental torture. As we did back before the back to physical torture movement got its start in the junior secret agent movement within the bush administration.
    Still, mental torture-as I call it-“worked” quite well in the USSR when all they needed was a “confession” As did physical torture in Vietnam where the POWs were not really tortured for information but for an ideological reason. Same happened in Maos China. Torture to gain an ideological confession of sinning against the govt.

    Physical torture, the way we did it as junior torture masters, was always doomed to fail. The reason being is that some torture happy idiots got the junior g man idiots in bush to approve moving the SERE torture program to prisoners-we got the idea from NK during the Korean war of the 50s(and no one except “our boys” does this any more because there are a lot more effective ways to torture people without leaving any evidence).

  7. tjbs says:

    Torture is a failure also because people, suspects or not, were murdered under torture techniques that were banned because they led to death thus rendering questioning impossible.

    Torture/ Murder / Treason is the name of the game and the psyco-sexual pleasure it brought these perverts, making snuff films with live feeds most likely , with plug in innocents is vile disgusting sub-human behavior.

    The intent is to murder the soul while keeping the body breathing, nothing at all about the search for the truth.

        • mzchief says:

          Why would I say that? The lying to and the running away from is ultimately the self. Obviously there are deep problems with that which aren’t limited to that person alone. There’s far more to being a human being and dualistic thinking about/around that serves no one forcing the acting out of extremes.

    • ottogrendel says:

      Endless war, endless detention and existing above the law are about playing God. You are right. They are after spiritual destruction—the ultimate power trip—the power to cast the souls of the “other” to Hell forever in their apocalyptic Clash of Civilizations.

  8. fatster says:

    Democracy Now transcript is not up yet, but should be soon. Brave, principled man–and they’re now out to get him.

    Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón on Bin Laden’s Killing, Holding Torturers Accountable, Universal Jurisdiction, and His Threatened Ouster From the Bench


  9. ThingsComeUndone says:

    John McCain has, on balance, a good op-ed in the Washigton Post refuting Michael Mukasey’s embrace of torture.

    I never thought I’d see those words on FDL again since McCain reversed on immigration rights. But McCain just burned the Bushies on a point they all went on every Sunday tv show to create.

    It’s all wildarsed speculation at this point, but such a scenario might explain why the torture apologists have been so vehement.

    We know McCain lies like about immigrants causing crime in AZ. But he was the Senate intelligence committee chair he knows if he lies against the Bushies they would love to trump him with facts and unlike the Obama Dems the Bushies will attack him him thats a given.
    McCain’s personal story where he lied to torturers adds Creds. Still it would be good to get a confirming source from someone in the know in the Obama WH.
    Cripes I can’t believe I’m arguing that Obama and the Dems should back McCain if he’s telling the truth.
    Strange Bedfellows?

  10. ThingsComeUndone says:

    How will the News Media play this they can ignore this story and help save the GOP’s reputation especially after they made such a big fuss last sunday on every tv show. They can ask the Obama WH for confirmation and if O’s people don’t give it to them then they are to weak to win reelection against the GOP and might as well go home after O’s term is up.
    At the very least the Sunday talk shows should follow the ratings and beg to have McCain on every Sunday show he is still in the Senate and in the know the Bushies are not.
    I bet the Media ignores the story.

  11. ThingsComeUndone says:

    I think we now know why Bush did not agree to appear with Obama after Ossama was killed bush was holding out for a public declaration from Obama that torture gave us the information that lead to Osama’s death. The Bushies need ammo incase in a few decades they face a an American torture trial like Pinochet did in Chile.
    Bush also needs torture to work so his record which we know Karl is trying to rehab does not sink Jeb from running for President given that no GOPer now running can beat Obama the Bushies must be thinking Jeb can save the GOP at the last minute.
    Gas Prices over $4 a gallon real unemployment over 10% and Obama was polling higher than all the GOP presidential candidates before Ossama got killed.
    If the people think torture helped get Ossama then Bush’s record on this one issue helps Jeb run for President on what is right now at least Obama’s biggest win.
    If Obama’s people don’t back McCain then Obama’s political team needs to be fired…and hey I need a job:)

    • JTMinIA says:

      I agree that the Bushies want there to be a widespread belief that torture helped us to get bin Laden and that part of this is for a possible future defense against prosecution for torture. That is, to me, all the more reason to stop framing this question in the way that the torturers want. (And this is, I’m sorry to say, aimed at EW and Froomkin and several others with whom I normally agree.) It does not matter whether torture works when it comes to questions about the morality and legality of torture. [Please read the previous sentence several times.] The ends do not justify the means. Torture would be both wrong and illegal even if it did everything that the torturers say that it does. That is completely irrelevant to the questions of whether torture is moral and/or legal, and every time you engage in a discussion of torture efficacy without saying that the question of efficacy is orthogonal to the questions of morality and legality you are part of the problem because you are reinforcing their framing. You might not intend to. You might know that torture is wrong and illegal regardless of efficacy. But if you don’t mention the wrongness and illegality when discussing efficacy, then you are playing right into the torturer’s hands. Please stop.

      • ThingsComeUndone says:

        I was wrong not to mention that even if torture does work and we have no evidence it does it would still be wrong. The recent Afghan jail break out where hundreds of prisoners escaped we assume many were tortured but nobody told the guards shit about the months long plan to dig a tunnel suggests torture does not work.

      • onitgoes says:

        It does not matter whether torture works when it comes to questions about the morality and legality of torture….The ends do not justify the means. Torture would be both wrong and illegal even if it did everything that the torturers say that it does. That is completely irrelevant to the questions of whether torture is moral and/or legal…

        Thanks for the reminder about that! Indeed, this is a very salient & immeidately pressing point.

        I think it’s worth stating that torture, quite simply, doesn’t “work,” but when I’ve had discussions on this topic, I have always (well, I think I always did) raised the issue about the legality & morality of it, as well…. and how it’s both *illegal* and basically against *all* of our values that citizens allegedly hold so dear.

        Sad to say, that I’ve mostly been scoffed at for having such “pussy concerns” along these lines. Nonetheless, I have gotten in some peoples’ faces about the illegality and immorality of what we, as citizens, are *enabling* in our names. By pressing this point, I have at least made some citizens “uncomfortable,” which was why I did it.

        I am sickened by citizens who willingly flush our laws & our values right down the toilet at the first chance to do so with no questions asked, and, if anything, exhibit a chest-thumping amoral disgusting *pride* in doing so.

        • mzchief says:

          That to me is a display of a very disturbing attitude that superior force is the only thing that matters. Well now the law is no longer king, is it?

        • Starbuck says:

          Marcy, any opinion/info on Dr. Steve Pieczenik’s claim to practically unassailable evidence (not proof!) that OB has been dead for years?

          I find the host to this site (Alex Jones) to be over the top, so to speak. The: “I heard from a insider who got it from an insider…” sort of thing that puts me to rout! But I have to say Pieczenik did give me great pause.

          Pieczenik’s claims have a consistency that I find lacking elsewhere, and his consistency holds true, at first glace, all the way back to FDR, where Roosevelt gave up prosecuting P.Bush, J.P. Morgan and others for treason in order to get Wall Street off his back fighting the New Deal. That to me says FDR set the stage for today’s arrogance with respect to the law.

          DWT’s blog on Roosevelt makes this point:

          The videos, especially #3, are startling!

    • wavpeac says:

      And you know what?? Bush might actually be able to decrease his liability by arguing that he had relapsed in his disease of alcoholism. Seriously, it goes from premeditated murder to manslaughter. He may be able to hold himself slightly less accountable. And maybe Cheney knows this and this is why he is so dang loud about all this!

  12. freesociety says:

    John McCain lies whether he is tortured or not.

    I wish this Neocon would stop torturing me with his lies.

  13. spocko says:

    On Monday Sean Hannity said that waterboarding was “morally justified.”

    I wondered what moral system he is working from. He didn’t say legally justified, or justified because it worked, but morally.

    Is Sean getting his moral vision from producers of 24?

    Sean is Catholic, and before you joke about the Spanish Inquisition, you need to know that Catholics have been against torture for a long time. Both recent Popes have spoken out against it. Sean’s comment that waterboarding is morally justified is not using current Catholic teaching on morality.

    I want the Catholic Church to educate Sean on their teachings so we can see that these are not Catholic moral values. They are not Christian moral values either. It might be the “moral values” of Dick Chaney, but there is nothing in the teachings of Jesus Christ that should lead him to believe that waterboarding torture is morally justified.

    • onitgoes says:

      On Monday Sean Hannity said that waterboarding was “morally justified.”

      wow, so disgusting. Agree with what you said re Hannity & the Catholic Church.

      I’ve read a number of letters to the editior in my local “nooz” paper also stating clearly that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were “morally justified” bc they are what “led to the capture & killing of ObL.”

      I’ve wondered if some rightwing org is sending these letters (which tend to have similar wording), or if it’s just “regular citizens,” watch far too much of greedy whores like Hannity. The mind boggles sometimes.

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