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Torture didn’t help the US get Osama bin Laden

FILE - This undated file photo shows al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden's spokesman and son-in-law has been captured by U.S. intelligence officials, officials said Thursday, in what a senior congressman called a "very significant victory" in the ongoing fight against al-Qaida. A Jordanian security official confirmed that al-Ghaith was handed over last week to U.S. law enforcement officials under both nations' extradition treaty. He declined to disclose other details and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
AP Photo
The US didn’t need torture to find him.
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

A wide-ranging US Senate investigation into the CIA’s tactics in the so-called War on Terror confirms the use of torture to interrogate captives at black sites around the world—and shows that it was only in spite of this cruelty that the US was able to find and kill the architect of the 9/11 attacks.

The investigation began in 2009 after the CIA reported that it had destroyed tapes of prisoner interrogations, and has been eventful: The CIA admitted to surveilling Senate computer networks in an effort to gather information about the probe, and fights between the CIA, the White House and the Senate over how to declassify and release its results have only delayed the report.

The CIA and Senate Republicans will release separate responses to the report. Former Bush administration officials began criticizing the report before its release, following leaks that the report would confirm other findings of US crimes during the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists.

Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Select Intelligence Committee that produced the report, stressed that the use of torture did not result in useful intelligence, and that the CIA misrepresented its activities to the public and to lawmakers, including Feinstein herself.

In the case of Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda founder who was tracked to a hideout in Pakistan and killed by US forces during a raid in 2011, the CIA claimed that detainees subjected to what they call “enhanced interrogation techniques” had identified the courier who ultimately led them to their target.

However, this report—based on an extensive analysis of the CIA’s own files—says Bin Laden’s courier had long been under surveillance, and more than two dozen sources discussed him. The person who provided the most detailed information, a senior Al Qaeda fundraiser and logistical facilitator named Hassan Ghul, provided it after being captured in 2004—before he was subjected to the “enhanced interrogation techniques.” An CIA officer reported that he “sang like a tweetie bird…opened up right away and was cooperative from the outset.”

But after providing that information, the report says he was taken to a different detention site, where he was shaved, stripped, and stood against a wall with his hands raised over his head for two hours at a time. After 59 hours of sleep deprivation, he began experiencing hallucinations and complaining of pain, but gave no further information. While additional details of his interrogation and release were redacted, the report says he eventually wound up in a Pakistani prison, was released and ultimately killed in 2012 by a US drone strike in Pakistan.

Nonetheless, the CIA claimed that its techniques led to Bin Laden in hearings and public statements after the raid that killed him. Update: In its response to the report, the CIA says that coercive techniques used against another Al Qaeda detainee, Ammar al-Baluchi, led them to the courier. But CIA records cited in the report show the agency obtained information about the courier from a foreign government agent who developed a rapport with al-Baluchi before the CIA took over the interrogation. Under “enhanced interrogation,” al-Baluchi provided inaccurate information about the courier.

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