The Big Lie: Torture Got Bin Laden, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  May 10 2011 @ 2:15pm

Marc Thiessen claims I'm twisting the truth and then proceeds to paper over the difference between CIA interrogations and CIA interrogations involving torture. This is not a minor distinction. It is the entire distinction. Marcy Wheeler fisks him. Much of the Thiessen column just avoids any discussion of how torture helped us get bin Laden, as well it might. But here's Marcy's dismemberment of the non-argument:

So to summarize Thiessen’s spin of how al-Libi helped nab OBL:

Al-Libi told the CIA that at a time when he was a key messenger for OBL, he had been in Abottabad

Al-Libi told the CIA how important couriers were

Al-Libi managed to hide the name of the all-important courier through whom we eventually found OBL, even under torture

Okay, Marc, so what did the CIA do with that intelligence? As Jose Rodriguez (who was head of Clandestine Services at the time) helpfully explained, they concluded from al-Libi’s interrogation that OBL was just a figurehead.

Al-Libbi told interrogators that the courier would carry messages from bin Laden to the outside world only every two months or so. “I realized that bin Laden was not really running his organization. You can’t run an organization and have a courier who makes the rounds every two months,” Rodriguez says. “So I became convinced then that this was a person who was just a figurehead and was not calling the shots, the tactical shots, of the organization. So that was significant.”

And later that same year, the CIA shut down its dedicated hunt for OBL.

So the torture of Al-Libi led to the Bush administration's abandonment of the hunt for bin Laden, a grotesque abdication of responsibility which president Obama rectified as soon as he became president. Why? because tortured information is often misleading – and led us away from finding OBL. The only other cases of torture in searching for bin Laden produced admitted lies about his couriers. And the use of torture, far from disabling terrorists, has, according to those in the front line, been the biggest source of Jihadist recruitment. Here's Will Wilkinson's perspective on the bizarre re-ignition of the torture debate in the wake of Obama's triumph:

It is not clear to me which, if any, version of the story is definitive. At the same time, it doesn't seem to me necessary to know for certain in order to render a reasonable verdict on the rightness or wrongness of torture. To my mind, the mere fact that it is plausible Mr bin Laden was discovered without the help of torture is more than enough to justify the claim that the use of torture in the attempt to find him was wrong. Because, you see, torture is wrong. And if there are circumstances in which the rule forbidding torture is defeated, they are circumstances in which there is simply no other way. 

It also strikes me that writers like Thiessen need to be identified in their columns as having a vested interest. Those implicated in the torture program, like Thiessen, are given platforms to defend their crimes – without even a disclosure that they helped enable those crimes when in office. Would the Washngton Post have given G. Gordon Libby or Chuck Colson columns after Watergate constantly reiterating that they committed crimes in what they believed was the national interest?

Somehow I don't think so. But that was when the Washington Post was run by people with scruples.