Didn't Need to Waterboard? Obama Should Know Better


By Mike Griffith, Staff Writer

Last night, during his 100th-day press conference, President Obama conceded that valuable intelligence was gained from waterboarding and other harsh methods.  But both times when he conceded this point, he added the puzzling claim that he had seen no evidence that we could not have gained that intelligence by other means. 

One is led to suspect that President Obama has not actually read the released interrogation memos but instead has only received briefings on them.  Why?  Because the released memos themselves point out, for example, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) gave up no information of any value until he was waterboarded.  I quote:


       The CIA used the waterboard extensively in the interrogations of KSM and Zubaydah, but did so only after it became clear that standard interrogation techniques were not working. (OLC-CIA memo on interrogations, 30 May 2005, p. 8)


       . . . it [the CIA] would have been unable to obtain critical information from numerous detainees, including KSM and Abu Zubaydah, without these enhanced techniques. . . .  Indeed, before the CIA used enhanced techniques in its interrogation of KSM, KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, "Soon you will know." (OLC-CIA memo on interrogations, 30 May 2005, p. 9)

Incidentally, the memos also state that great care was taken to ensure that waterboarding and other harsh measures did not cause any serious or lasting physical or mental harm:

       Moreover, the techniques have been carefully designed to minimize the risk of suffering or injury and to avoid inflicting any serious or lasting physical or psychological harm. (OLC-CIA memo on interrogations, 30 May 2005, p. 3)

Ronald Kessler, who has written a new book about the U.S. interrogation programs, and who has interviewed many of those who were involved with them, recently noted the following about Zubaydah’s interrogations:

       Soon after, Abu Zubaydah stopped cooperating. Fearing that another attack was in the works, the CIA began developing coercive interrogation techniques — waterboarding high value terrorists or subjecting them to ear-splitting music or to icy temperatures and forcing them to stand for hours.

       “We weren’t getting very much from him [Abu Zubaydah] at all,” Robert Grenier, who was the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad and later headed the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, told me. “And that’s when we began the process of putting together a properly focused interrogation process". . . .

       After coercive techniques were used on him, Abu Zubaydah identified Ramzi bin al Shibh, who was captured in Karachi in September 2002. He was a top al-Qaida recruiter and a member of bin Laden’s inner circle. Zubaydah identified him as one of KSM’s accomplices in the 9/11 attacks. After his arrest, al Shibh provided information that helped in the planning and execution of the operation that captured KSM. (Kessler, "Washington Post Misleads Again on War on Terror," Newsmax, March 30, 2009, http://www.newsmax.com/kessler/war_on_terror_post_/2009/03/30/197377.html)

Another instructive case is the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, the "20th hijacker."  Before harsh methods were used on him, Qahtani was sticking to absurd cover stories and was providing no information of any value.  After being subjected to several harsh methods, which did not include waterboarding, Qahtani gave up valuable information.  We know this from information that has been in the public record for some time now.  How President Obama could be unaware of this is puzzling, to say the least.  John Rosenthal:

       In early October 2002, the questioning of al-Qahtani has been going nowhere. Interrogators and staff psychologists are convinced that he is lying: repeating prefabricated cover stories, no matter how implausible, as required by al Qaeda security protocols. He insists, for example, that he traveled to the United States to import used cars and that he was in Afghanistan merely to purchase falcons.

       The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has only just passed. A spike in intelligence has American officials on high alert. On October 8, Bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri releases an audio statement threatening new attacks against America and American allies. The commanders of JTF 170 decide they need to act. On October 11, Major General Michael E. Dunlavey sends a memo to U.S. Army Southern Command requesting authorization to use more aggressive interrogation techniques with the detainees. The request gains still greater urgency on the very next day as al Qaeda makes good on its threats, killing over 200 people in multiple bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. (Rosenthal, "Torture" in the Dock," Policy Review, January 2009, reprinted at http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/35426189.html)

It is incredible that President Obama could stand up in front of the American people and claim that he’s unaware of any evidence that waterboarding and other harsh methods gave us any intelligence that could not have been obtained via other means. 

As of now, President Obama still has not released the "Effectiveness Memo" that is mentioned and briefly quoted in the released memos.  This memo contains a detailed review of the crucial intelligence that was obtained by waterboarding and other harsh methods.  If the President doesn’t mind revealing all the details about our harshest interrogation methods (none of which is lethal or injurious), then he shouldn’t mind also revealing all the critical intelligence that was gained from those methods.


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