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.
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One hotly debated piece of information was the alias of the courier – Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti – that intelligence officials gained from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was subjected to waterboarding 183 times.Skip to next paragraph
The interrogators assert that Mr. Mohammed and others “did not divulge the nom de guerre of a courier during torture, but rather several months later, when they were questioned by interrogators who did not use abusive techniques.”
“This is not surprising,” they wrote in the open letter posted on the Human Rights First website. “We know from experience that it is very difficult to elicit information from a detainee who has been abused. The abuse often only strengthens their resolve and makes it that much harder for an interrogator to find a way to elicit useful information.”
Eliciting that information involves decency, Herrington says. “The fact that you may hate this person, viscerally, doesn’t matter. You use the talents you have.”
Herrington says he often began the interrogation relationship by bringing detainees information valuable to them. “I would say, ‘I know you’re worried about your family, and this morning I’m bringing you information about your wife and kids.’ ”
He might have framed his questions to bin Laden, Herrington says, in a way that encouraged him to clear up misunderstandings. “I’d say, ‘Even though we’re on different sides of this thing, I can’t help but wonder what it is that we didn’t understand about you or your cause or Islam that got you to the point where you would do this – educate me.’ ”
Interrogators, including Herrington, emphasize that they do not question the decisions of the Navy SEAL team operators to kill bin Laden. “It’s a hair-trigger moment. You can’t second guess that,” he says.
Recent statements from Obama administration officials, however, indicate that bin Laden was unarmed. “Lurking in the background is that if [special operators] were told to go in and kill this guy – and they clearly understood the marching orders – he could have wrapped himself in an American flag and had a white flag in both hands” and still been killed, Herrington says. “Have we come to the point where it is simply seen as too much trouble to capture? [That it’s] better to kill and avoid the theatrics that have accompanied the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others?” he wonders.
“I don’t think that the people crafting the rules of engagement for this operation would direct the killing of any individual affirmatively manifesting a bona fide intent to surrender,” says Charles Dunlap, former Deputy Judge Advocate General of the Air Force. “In bin Laden’s case, I am not aware of anything that suggests he had, let alone exhibited, any intent to surrender, so the assumption that he was hostile was justified, in my opinion.”
Killing bin Laden is widely considered legal, given the rules of war – drone strikes in the ungoverned tribal areas of Pakistan routinely kill insurgents sleeping in their beds, for example.
“What I want to know is,” asks Herrington, “was it wise?