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Debunking 4 myths around bin Laden killing: torture, cowering, CIA, and Pakistan's involvement

A few things that caught my attention.

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The simple fact is this: The CIA did not invent, finance, or otherwise train Al Qaeda. Charlie Wilson and Osama bin Laden never sat down in a Texas hot tub to discuss the future of Afghanistan. And the mujahideen that the United States did finance in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union were, by and large, the ones who lost to the Taliban and its Al Qaeda ally in the Afghan civil war that followed. Bin Laden's anti-American opinions were already well-formed by the time he arrived in Peshawar, Pakistan, in the 1980s to help fund the mujahideen. He was a bearer of largesse, not a recipient, and he directed his cash toward Islamist groups that the US generally avoided, like that of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf.

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Of course, there is a kernel of truth to this canard. Did some American money end up in Al Qaeda fellow-travelers' pockets? Certainly possible. The US provided money to Pakistan, and the ISI in those years was certainly dealing with the Afghan Arabs. But that would be the extent of it.

4. Torture saved the day

This is a very odd one. The Monitor has covered this well in the past day or so both here and here. The "debate" is over whether simulated drowning, stress positions, and other torture techniques used by the US government during the Bush Administration helped lead to bin Laden. Many Bush era officials are crowing that the "harsh interrogation" was critical to finding bin Laden.

For instance John Yoo, the Bush justice department staffer who famously wrote memos justifying the use of simulated drowning on prisoners, wrote in a Wall Street Journal column that it was "President George W. Bush, not his successor, (who) constructed the interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs that produce this week’s actionable intelligence." Yoo's evidence for this assertion? He doesn't provide any.

The truth? Well, an important early leads did come form Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the former head of operations for Al Qaeda. Some months after Mr. Mohammed's simulated drowning sessions, or waterboarding, ended, he gave up the nicknames of some of bin Laden's couriers during a standard interrogation. Years of work on those nicknames eventually helped lead to bin Laden's location. Did Mohammed's past experience of torture set the stage for his later admission? Well, one could make that argument. But it appears telling that the useful information came long after his waterboarding had ended, not during.


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