Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and John Yoo were all instrumental in implementing the U.S. torture program.

So it is no surprise that they are now pretending that torture helped get Bin Laden. See this, this and this.

They’re trying to avoid war crimes prosecution.

As I noted in 2009:

Cheney was the main architect of the torture policy (according to the number 2 man at the State Department and others).

So of course he would defend torture – he’s trying to keep his behind out of the defense chair at a war crimes tribunal.

Cheney defending torture is exactly like Charles Manson appearing on all of the news shows defending murder as a public policy.

Matthew Alexander – a former top Air Force interrogator who led the team that tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – agrees:

“These guys are trying to save their reputations, for one thing,” Alexander said. “They have, from the beginning, been trying to prevent an investigation into war crimes.”

As does Colonel Wilkerson, the former number two man at the State Department:

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Indeed, as Dan Froomkin notes in a little-noticed essay, torture actually delayed by years more effective intelligence-gathering methods which would have resulted in finding Bin Laden:

Defenders of the Bush administration’s interrogation policies have claimed vindication from reports that bin Laden was tracked down in small part due to information received from brutalized detainees some six to eight years ago.

But that sequence of events — even if true — doesn’t demonstrate the effectiveness of torture, these experts say. Rather, it indicates bin Laden could have been caught much earlier had those detainees been interrogated properly.

“I think that without a doubt, torture and enhanced interrogation techniques slowed down the hunt for bin Laden,” said an Air Force interrogator who goes by the pseudonym Matthew Alexander and located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, in 2006.

It now appears likely that several detainees had information about a key al Qaeda courier — information that might have led authorities directly to bin Laden years ago. But subjected to physical and psychological brutality, “they gave us the bare minimum amount of information they could get away with to get the pain to stop, or to mislead us,” Alexander told The Huffington Post.

“We know that they didn’t give us everything, because they didn’t provide the real name, or the location, or somebody else who would know that information,” he said.

In a 2006 study by the National Defense Intelligence College, trained interrogators found that traditional, rapport-based interviewing approaches are extremely effective with even the most hardened detainees, whereas coercion consistently builds resistance and resentment.

“Had we handled some of these sources from the beginning, I would like to think that there’s a good chance that we would have gotten this information or other information,” said Steven Kleinman, a longtime military intelligence officer who has extensively researched, practiced and taught interrogation techniques.

“By making a detainee less likely to provide information, and making the information he does provide harder to evaluate, they hindered what we needed to accomplish,” said Glenn L. Carle, a retired CIA officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002.


For Alexander, Kleinman and others, the key takeaway is not just that the torture didn’t work, but that it was actually counterproductive.

“The question is: What else did KSM have?” Alexander asked. And he’s pretty sure he knows the answer: KSM knew the courier’s real name, “or he knew who else knew his real name, or he knew how to find him — and he didn’t give any of that information,” Alexander said.

Alexander’s book, “Kill or Capture,” chronicles how the non-coercive interrogation of a dedicated al Qaeda member led to Zarqawi’s capture.

“I’m 100 percent confident that a good interrogator would have gotten additional leads” from KSM, Alexander said.


This new scenario hardly supports a defense of torture on the grounds that it’s appropriate in “ticking time bomb” scenarios, Alexander said. “Show me an interrogator who says that eight years is a good result.”

Indeed, Froomkin points out that the type of torture used is a special type focused on obtaining false confessions:

Experts agree that torture is particularly good at one thing: eliciting false confessions.

Bush-era interrogation techniques, were modeled after methods used by Chinese Communists to extract confessions from captured U.S. servicemen that they could then use for propaganda during the Korean War.

And Froomkin notes that torture hurts national security:

“They don’t want to talk about the long term consequences that cost the lives of Americans,” Alexander added. The way the U.S. treated its prisoners “was al-Qaeda’s number-one recruiting tool and brought in thousands of foreign fighters who killed American soldiers,” Alexander said. “And who want to live with that on their conscience?”

For background, see this.

Note: Cheney and Rumsfeld were never very interested in capturing Bin Laden. Their focus was elsewhere. So their revisionist statements about the usefulness of torture for intelligence purposes must be taken with a grain of salt. In reality, their torture program was crafted to justify the Iraq war, not to catch Bin Laden (and see this.)

Category: Think Tank, War/Defense

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

14 Responses to “War Criminals Try to Evade Prosecution By Pretending Torture Was Vital to Getting Bin Laden … When It Actually Delayed the Hunt for YEARS”

  1. keithpiccirillo says:

    The recent interview of Condoleezza Rice by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell was painful for both sides, and to listen to.
    Although Dick Cheney was very actively making visits in places VP’s rarely do, this whole topic has been hackneyed with hindsight as to be almost indiscernible to me. Let’s just say the Neoconservatives worked off of the right makes might premise and having a tool like interrogation, that could give the results they needed, they tinkered with it. Reminds me of a statistics professor who said sometimes decisions are made in the field wherein first there was an error, then the error gets compounded, and finally the error becomes extended. Compound extended errors leave bad residual precedence.

  2. Moss says:

    Not much different than believing the rendition of the financial crisis from Hank Paulson. These people have vested interests in their reputation and will go to any extreme to protect it. They may in fact even believe what they are saying is the truth. We all know that defending the ‘team’ and its policies regardless of the facts is deep rooted and standard operating procedure. It applies to both the right and the left. Some people simply believe that torture is not wrong or that water boarding is not torture.

  3. Regis says:

    Good article but one quick note. Wilkerson was not the number two main the State Dept. He was the Chief of Staff to the number one man. He had a crucial position to be sure and probably was privy to information that many of the Unders, Deputies, Assistants, Directors., who outranked him would not have seen or heard.

  4. seth1066 says:

    The linked “Washington Blog” page, “Why Didn’t We Capture the Terrorist Kingpin and Interrogate Him?” I found hard to be credible. The author claims, as is obvious givin the title, we should have captured bin Laden alive for interrogation (I assume using kinder “rapport based” implementation).

    A suggested method of capture would be, according to the author, using “sleeping gas,” because the State Department travel tips for US citizens suggests “Criminals may also spray sleeping gas in train compartments.” The many obvious reasons why this method of capture is not feasible, I’ll skip.

    Yes, the State Department “sleeping gas” quote is on their web site. However, I have not found a shred of collaboration, nor heard or read any news of this “sleeping gas” method in my many decades of travel. The point is, unresearched quotes such as this tend to destroy the believability of the writer and perhaps do not help the author who quotes the link in question.

  5. yuvalw says:

    Barry, you always bring only one side of the story and present it AS if it was the whole truth, this is kinda childish “told you” behavior (for every argument told by a number 1/2/3 person / chief of something, you could find another number 1/2/3 person / chief of something saying the opposite).

  6. patrick_g says:

    Yup. Real CIA interrogators testified before Congress that torture doesn’t work, and they don’t need, want or use it. Once a real interrogator has you in their power – meaning they control you and your environment – it’s not hard for them to get the truth.

    The use of torture was all about Cheney and Rumsfeld trying to show everyone how bad ass they were; it was essentially a pissing contest with bin Laden.

  7. realitician says:

    What gets lost in this argument is how the use of torture dehumanizes those who employ it more than those who are subjected to it. Allowing ourselves to dip to such a low level discredits our stated belief in human dignity. Once you cross that boundary with one group, what’s to stop you from using it with others?

    It’s harmed us more than them. Cheney should be subjected to a war crime trial. This is a demeaning practice we need to put a declarative stop to.

  8. Chad says:

    Barry, thanks for keeping this issue out there. This is part of the destruction of the American dream I grew up with and saw shattered.

    And, those that oppose stories like this always lack facts. Where are the professional interrogators who support torture? List them…there are none. The only proponents of toture seem to be the politicians who wanted it (the same ones who gave the banks bailouts and just happened to give a company they used to be the CEO of giant government contracts for a useless war) and the idiots who think a trip to an out of town Wal-Mart is an adventure and supports this country’s economy.

    If torture works so well, explain how the guy who knew the personal currier for Bin Laden never gave us any info on this currier? We had him for years. And, tortured him for years. I thought torture worked wonders?

    So, true. It also makes us no better than the animals we are fighting. We used to be the golden city on the hill. Sadly, it took less than a decade to destroy the city. Now we are just another slum amongst all the other animal slums.

  9. olddogDALTX says:

    Barry, Please. I am sure that one can quote opinions on both sides of this discussion ad nauseum. The only truth here and aptly phrased is ‘desperate times demand desperate measures.’ Unfortunately, we are bound by our public compact to allow our leaders the leeway to determine who our vital enemies are and to take action as necessary. Judgement calls all around. Note the recent Administration’s murder of bin Laden and the attempted murder of an American citizen in Yeman. Note the pretense that Pakistan can be judged as somehow against us, when WE have known since W J Clinton attempted to murder bin Laden via cruise missile that some people in Pakistan and its government are sympathetic to the Taliban, etc. Big surprise? Are we going to castigate the entire nation? Of course we will if it serves at present our deeper motives.

    What I and of course you know is that concerning ourselves with this matter is deviating from our and the community’s best interests, unless of course you are a member of CFR. We get a shot at electing our representatives every few years and amazingly enough set to cannibalizing them immediately post election. Outrageous? Of course. But I will defend this system based on the Constitution and its Amendments to the death. The current President or a future one may determine I or you to be public enemy number one and take, when judged with all the wisdom of hind sight, premature action. Think we are protected from this type of accidental abuse? Think again. Remember the leeway.

  10. yuvalw says:

    @chad I didn’t say whether torture “work” or not, honestly I have no clue, just like barry and you. All I was saying is that every story has two sides but barry always present one side as if it was the truth.
    Now, if interrogators don’t need or want to use it, great, dont use it, or maybe you think that bad, mean, stupid, pc users politicians made then use it…
    this is childish approach, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  11. olddogDALTX says:

    Amen to yuvalw’s second comment. I see absolutely nothing but opinions all around. Of course the proponents of various views have transparent political motives. Is creating an atmosphere of fear, panic, and physical exhaustion torture? Beyond that, one can invent scenarios wherein the most heinous torture, by anyone’s definition, would be justifiable. Does anybody think we should ask for a time out, discuss with our enemy-to-the-death peace terms, play by the rules, if/when millions of lives are in immediate peril? Nobody but nobody in the current Administration believes it so why do we want to be tooled into thinking they do?

  12. Chad says:

    You said there was another side to this. I’m still waiting for the other side.

    And, actually I have a clue if torture works, as every single interrogator comes out against it. Plus, the guy who knew the personal courier for Bin Laden never gave us any info on the courier. The government stated that he wouldn’t talk about him. We had him for years and tortured him for years, yet he never gave good information on this courier. Again, seems rather clear that torture doesn’t work.

    Politicians did make them use torture. They authorized it.

    Amazingly enough olddogDALTX, all of the above are not opinions developed by me, it is information straight from the best sources we have.

  13. Opinionator says:

    That’s a bit harsh. “War criminals?”

    I don’t doubt for a minute that waterboarding is harsh and intolerable, but it is a far cry from the many ways in which real torture can leave a man’s body broken and permanently ruined. Real torture doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision. It has been used forever. Native American Indians would tie a man to a tree, eviscerated him and allow his intestines to run out of his body onto the ground where insects would devour them. Took a long time to die that way.
    The Mafia was for a time partial to the ball peen hammer. It does a job on bones, joints, and any body part applied to. If you survive this treatment, you are physically ruined and psychologically damaged, too boot.

    To put these in the same category of waterboarding is intellectually dishonest. You should stick to investment ideas. Your social, philosophical, political views are banal.

  14. Francois says:

    “That’s a bit harsh. “War criminals?” ”

    It’s the plain ol’ truth. The US signed the International Convention Against Torture (ICAT) under none other than Ronald Reagan in 1984. As usual, CONgress took its fucking sweet time and finally got to it in 1994.

    If you google the text of the ICAT, it cannot be clearer; States cannot escape their responsibilities to not engage, nor facilitate, nor harbor or protect by action or omission people who engaged in acts of torture, or, taking advantage of their position of authority, ordered subordinates to do so.

    Which means, that not only Cheney and Rumsfeld and Bush are guilty, but so is Obama by claiming his “Look Forward, Not Backward!” doctrine.

    Dura lex, sed lex! The law is tough, but it’s the law!

    BTW Opinionator,

    Your attempt at declaring that waterboarding is not real torture is as dishonest as they come. Even worse, it doesn’t even pass the laughing test.

    You should stick to radio silence instead of coming here to insult the intelligence of other readers.