The right is grasping at straws trying to justify harsh interrogation techniques to burnish the legacy of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. That is why the narrative they’ve created credits waterboarding with obtaining information leading to the demise of Osama bin Laden. However, close analysis shows this is not so, as Marcy Wheeler traces the events.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (pictured) was waterboarded 183 times, which would already signal it didn’t work. Information about the courier who led to finding bin Laden came much after the waterboarding of Mohammed took place.
…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.
Like Mohammed, his successor Abu Faraj al-Libi was harshly interrogated, but it is unlikely that it was that which led to actionable information.
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.
As Marcy explained to Joan McCarter at Kos in an email:
Assuming they got the courier’s name in 2005 or 2006, per reports, it happened 2 years or more after KSM’s waterboarding.
Which would say KSM withheld this information under waterboarding.
And given how much time it took to actually get from the courier to the compound (presumably about 4 years), both KSM and al-Libi didn’t give all that much on the courier(s).
And Donald Rumsfeld says that information that led to the courier source was obtained using “normal interrogation approaches” and that it’s a “myth” that waterboarding took place at Gitmo.
Asked if harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay played a role in obtaining intelligence on bin Laden’s whereabouts, Rumsfeld declares: “First of all, no one was waterboarded at Guantanamo Bay. That’s a myth that’s been perpetrated around the country by critics.
“The United States Department of Defense did not do waterboarding for interrogation purposes to anyone. 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.”