Despite GOP Claims, Immoral Torture Slowed Down Effort to Find Bin Laden
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The death of Osama bin Laden has sparked a debate over whether torture of suspects held at places such as the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay helped track down and kill the al-Qaeda leader. Some claim the mission vindicated controversial Bush policies on harsh interrogation techniques. We speak with Matthew Alexander, a former senior military interrogator in Iraq. "The laying of the groundwork, if you will, of these [Bush-era] techniques, I believe wholeheartedly, slowed us down on the road towards Osama bin Laden and numerous other members of al-Qaeda," Alexander says. "I’m convinced we would have found him a lot earlier had we not resorted to torture and abuse."
AMY GOODMAN: The death of Osama bin Laden has sparked a debate over whether torture of suspects held at places like Guantánamo helped track down and kill the al-Qaeda leader. As intelligence officials revealed more about the trail of evidence that led to disclosing bin Laden’s location, some have claimed the mission vindicated controversial Bush policies on harsh interrogation techniques. Congressman Steve King, a Republican of Iowa, tweeted on Monday, "Wonder what President Obama thinks of water boarding now?"
Meanwhile, New York Congressman Peter King, also the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, said bin Laden would not have been caught without the use of torture.
REP. PETER KING: Osama bin Laden would not have been captured and killed if it were not for the initial information we got from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after he was waterboarded.
AMY GOODMAN: That was New York Republican Congressman Peter King talking to CBS. Karl Rove, former adviser to President George Bush, said, "I think the tools that President Bush put into place—GITMO, rendition, enhanced interrogation, the vast effort to collect and collate this information—obviously served his successor quite well." The Obama administration has denied such techniques were central to finding bin Laden.
REPORTER: Can you say if there’s been any change in President Obama’s opposition to so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques"?
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: No change whatsoever.
REPORTER: Were any results of such techniques used in helping to track down bin Laden?
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: Mark, the fact is that no single piece of information led to the successful mission that occurred on Sunday. And multiple detainees provided insights into the networks of people who might have been close to bin Laden, but reporting from detainees was just a slice of the information that has been gathered by incredibly diligent professionals over the years in the intelligence community. And it’s simply strange credulity to suggest that a piece of information that may or may not have been gathered in—eight years ago somehow directly led to a successful mission on Sunday. That’s just not the case.
AMY GOODMAN: That was White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
To discuss the issue, we go to Los Angeles to talk to Matthew Alexander, a former senior military interrogator who conducted or supervised over 1,300 interrogations in Iraq, leading to the capture of numerous al-Qaeda leaders. His latest book is called Kill or Capture: How a Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious Al Qaeda Terrorist. He’s currently a fellow at UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations.
Matthew Alexander, welcome to Democracy Now! What do you make of this debate that is raging right now about torture and its effectiveness?
MATTHEW ALEXANDER: Good morning, Amy.
The debate is skewed at this point. And one reason why is because we don’t know all the details, and secondly, because a lot is being left out of the conversation. And let me talk a little bit about that. One of the things that people aren’t talking about is the fact that one of the people that was confronted with this information that bin Laden had a courier is Skaykh al-Libi, who was held in a CIA secret prison and was tortured and who gave his CIA interrogators the name of the courier as being Maulawi Jan. And the CIA chased down that information and found out that person didn’t exist, that al-Libi had lied. And nobody is talking about the fact that al-Libi caused us to waste resources and time by chasing a false lead because he was tortured.