Jewish World Review May 5, 2011 / 1 Iyar, 5771
CIA officials: Crucial info in bin Laden capture came from interrogation tactics now forsworn by Obama administration
By Ken Dilanian
Even info extracted after torture -- and proven false -- ultimately played key role
ASHINGTON (MCT) An al-Qaida suspect who was subjected to harsh interrogation techniques at a secret CIA prison in early 2004 provided his interrogators with a clue the nom de guerre of a mysterious courier that ultimately proved crucial to finding and killing Osama bin Laden, officials said Wednesday.
The CIA had approved use of sleep deprivation, slapping, nudity, water dousing and other coercive techniques at the now-closed CIA "black site" in Poland where the Pakistani-born detainee, Hassan Ghul, was held, according to a 2005 Justice Department memo, which cited Ghul by name. Two U.S. officials said Wednesday that some of those now-prohibited practices were directed at Ghul.
The Obama administration has forsworn those interrogation tactics, and the CIA no longer captures or interrogates terror suspects, the agency says. The CIA has sharply increased the use of armed Predator drones and military commando raids to kill them, or passed intelligence tips to other governments to capture or kill them instead.
The current CIA director, Leon Panetta, said it was impossible to know if the same information could have been gleaned without using those techniques, which have been banned under President Barack Obama.
"The debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches, I think, is always going to be an open question," Panetta told NBC News on Tuesday.
Ghul quickly disappeared into the CIA's network of secret prisons, and became one of 28 detainees subject to "enhanced interrogation techniques," according to the Justice Department memo, which was publicly released in 2009.
At first, his interrogators sought authorization to use "attention grasp, walling (slamming a detainee against a wall), facial hold, facial slap, wall standing, stress positions and sleep deprivation," according to the memo.
But the interrogators concluded that Ghul had steeled himself to resist physical pressure, the memo continues, so they switched to "more subtle interrogation measures designed to weaken (his) physical ability and mental desire to resist interrogation … "
Those measures included "dietary manipulation, nudity, water dousing and abdominal slap." The team believed "those techniques would be especially helpful because he appeared to have a particular weakness for food and also seemed especially modest."
A U.S. official who has been briefed on Ghul's role in providing bin Laden information noted that "just because something was approved doesn't mean all of them were used," but did not dispute that force was used on Ghul.
"Ghul became relatively cooperative relatively quickly," the official said.
Ghul provided crucial information about the courier, including a nickname, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, the official said. Ghul and other detainees identified al-Kuwaiti as both a protege of Mohammed and a trusted assistant of al-Libbi.
In the end, intelligence gained from interviews with numerous detainees, high-tech eavesdropping and surveillance, and other investigative spadework provided insights into people who were close to bin Laden. No one source or bit of intelligence was so decisive or critical that it instantly solved the puzzle or ended the painstaking hunt for the world's most wanted terrorist, officials said.
The nuances of that complex chain of events were often lost Wednesday amid a renewed public debate about the efficacy and morality of coercive interrogations that the CIA carried out under President George W. Bush.
The Bush administration abandoned water boarding by in 2004, and closed the CIA's secret web of prisons. All the detainees were transferred to Guantanamo Bay by 2007.
Two other CIA prisoners al-Qaida's operations chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and his successor, Abu Faraj al-Libbi gave their interrogators false information about the courier after they were water boarded repeatedly, U.S. officials said.
Those lies also played a role in the decade-long manhunt, however. Over time, they were viewed as evidence by CIA analysts that bin Laden's top deputies were trying to shield a figure who might be a link to the al-Qaida leader's hide-out, according to U.S. officials briefed on the analysis. "The fact that they were covering it up suggested he was important," a U.S. official said.
"I think the issue has been mischaracterized on both sides," said a former CIA official who was involved in internal debate over the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" program at the time. "The people who say 'enhanced interrogation techniques' directly led to catching bin Laden are wrong, and the people who say they had nothing to do with it are also wrong."
A special prosecutor is investigating whether CIA officers exceeded their legal authority in using the techniques, and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are nearing completion of a study of the interrogations after reviewing some 3 million documents, said chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Asked Tuesday about the information that led to bin Laden, Feinstein said "To the best of our knowledge, based on a look, none of it came as a result of harsh interrogation practices."
Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, had a different interpretation. "The initial thread that they started to pull on came after enhanced interrogation," he said. "From that you can take it to a debate on where you go with that. But I don't think there's any doubt that it was after enhanced interrogation that they got the initial thread."
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