This morning, the counterattack began against the idea that Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques”—extended wakefulness, use of animals to frighten, belly slaps, and most especially the simulated drowning known as “waterboarding”—played a key role in gathering the intelligence that eventually led to bin Laden’s killing. Jane Mayer, the New Yorker writer whose book The Dark Side is essentially the prosecution brief against the Bush administration, wrote: “Funny. You would think that if the C.I.A.’s interrogation of high-value detainees was all it took, the U.S. government would have succeeded in locating bin Laden before 2006, which is when the C.I.A.’s custody of so-called ‘high-value detainees’ ended.” And on Talking Points Memo, Brian Beutler uses an updated piece of information from an AP story yesterday to demonstrate that “the rationale for giving the Bush [sic] credit for bin Laden’s death falls apart.” Here’s the detail he quotes: “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.”
So according to Mayer and Beutler, the fact that Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was broken through the use of these techniques and turned into a useful source for intelligence doesn’t matter, because he may not have revealed the information itself during a waterboarding session. That is exceptionally ludicrous and sophistic, though predictable, because people like them were responsible for turning the “torture meme” into a ju-jitsu attack method on the war on terror itself.
The truth is that there is far too much we don’t know here, and many people who are talking about the events surrounding the intelligence themselves know absolutely nothing about what went down and are just talking to aggrandize themselves. (This is a particular weakness with reporting on intelligence issues. In my experience, there is no field on earth about which people who claim to be experts flat-out lie more than intelligence. It seems to draw fantasists and frauds and deceivers.) Even the people who do know don’t know, as we learned yesterday after it turned out that some of the stunning details offered by White House terrorism chief John Brennan about bin Laden’s being armed and using a wife as a human shield were likely wrong.