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Military interrogators: Waterboarding didn't yield tips that led to bin Laden

Several former military interrogators refute assertions that waterboarding and other 'enhanced' methods provided intelligence that led the US to bin Laden. Some lament lost opportunity to grill Al Qaeda's leader.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / May 5, 2011

A demonstrator is held down during a simulation of waterboarding outside the Justice Department in Washington in this Nov. 5, 2007 file photo. A group of former US military interrogators are pushing back against the notion that Bush administration 'enhanced' methods led to the intelligence that helped US officials locate Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/File

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A group of former US military interrogators are pushing back against the notion that Bush administration “enhanced interrogation techniques” – which many consider to be torture – led to the intelligence that helped US officials locate Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

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Some US military intelligence officials also lament that bin Laden was not taken alive – and privately wonder whether concerns about the political “headaches” involved in trying detainees may have led the Obama administration to favor killing rather than capturing the architect of 9/11.

The opportunity to glean valuable intelligence from the leader of a powerful terrorist organization was lost, says retired Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who interrogated generals under the command of Saddam Hussein and evaluated US detention operations at Guantánamo.

It is a misconception that ideologues don’t talk, he says. “The opinion that, ‘Oh, he’s such a fanatic, he won’t tell us anything' – that’s uninformed blathering by people who don’t understand the business,” Herrington adds. “The experience with those who worked with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and some of the other most senior terrorists is that they are narcissists and that they do want to talk – and talk and talk.”

The key, Herrington says, is to “channel those long talking sessions where they begin to – inadvertently at first – reveal things that are useful. All the while he’s talking, he’s telling us things that he doesn’t think are important, but they are.”

That requires building relationships – a process that is hampered, not helped, by practices such as “slapping someone in the face and stripping them naked,” he adds.

A handful of former intelligence officials concurs, releasing a statement Wednesday countering recent Bush administration officials claiming credit for the intelligence gains that led to bin Laden’s death.

“We are concerned about the suggestion by some that the use of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques led US forces to Osama bin Laden’s compound,” reads the statement, signed by four former military and FBI interrogators, including Herrington.

Among other recent assertions, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Fox News that the Obama administration would not have learned critical information without using harsh measures. “Anyone who suggests that the enhanced techniques, let’s be blunt – waterboarding – did not produce an enormous amount of valuable intelligence just isn’t facing the truth,” he said.

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