Obama Still Against Enhanced Interrogations -- CIA Director Doesn’t Deny Waterboarding’s Role in Bin Laden Mission

May 4, 2011 - 11:51 AM

Washington (CNSNews.com) -- President Barack Obama still opposes enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, the White House spokesman said on Tuesday, the same day that CIA Director Leon Panetta did not deny that waterboarding was a tactic that in part led to the successful operation on Sunday to kill terrorist Osama bin Laden.

On Tuesday’s NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams asked Panetta, “I'd like to ask you about the sourcing on the intel that ultimately led to this successful attack. Can you confirm that it was as a result of waterboarding that we learned what we needed to learn to go after bin Laden?”

Panetta said the U.S. intelligence community works “from a lot of sources of information,” and added, “Clearly, some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees. But we also had information from other sources as well.”

Leon Panetta, CIA

Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon E. Panetta at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Va., on Feb. 25, 2009. (AP File Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Williams then asked, “Turned around the other way, are you denying that waterboarding was in part among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to this successful mission?

Panetta responded, “No.”

“I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees,” he said. “But I’m also saying that, you know, the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.”

Williams later asked Panetta, “So finer point, one final time, enhanced interrogation techniques -- which has always been kind of a handy euphemism in these post-9/11 years -- that includes waterboarding?”

Panetta said, “That's correct.”

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Sept. 11 mastermind

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind, shown shortly after his capture in Pakistan in this March 1, 2003 photo. (AP File Photo)

Information from detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who were subjected to enhanced interrogations opposed by the Obama administration, has aided U.S. intelligence in the war against terrorism. The CIA, for example, confirmed to CNSNews.com in 2009 that waterboarding of KSM caused him to reveal information that allowed the U.S. government to thwart a planned attack on Los Angeles.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who was briefed about the attack on Osama Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, told CNBC on May 3, "The information that eventually led us to this compound was the direct result of enhanced interrogations; one can conclude if we had not used enhanced interrogations, we would not have come to yesterday's action."

At the White House on Tuesday afternoon, CBS News reporter Mark Knoller asked, “Can you say if there has been any change in President Obama’s opposition to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques?”

White Houe Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “No change whatsoever.”

Knoller followed, “Were any results of such techniques used in helping to track down bin Laden?”

Carney said there were multiple reasons bin Laden, terrorist leader behind the 9/11 attack, was found.

“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,” Carney said. “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 eight years ago somehow directly led to a successful mission on Sunday. That’s just not the case.”

Critics of enhanced interrogation call it torture, notably waterboarding, which gives prisoners the feeling of being drowned. KSM was waterboarded 183 times.

Some former Bush administration officials, members of Congress, and commentators have suggested that the interrogations of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay was essential to the finding and killing bin Laden.

osama bin laden

Al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, responsible for the 9/11 terrorism attacks in the United States, was killed by U.S. Navy Seals in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011. (AP Photo)

"I think it ... rested heavily on some of those controversial policies,” Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy Defense secretary for George W. Bush, told a conference call, according to Reuters. “This would not have been possible if we were releasing terrorists willy-nilly and not keeping them for the information they had, some of which often may not look that important, like the pseudonym of a driver, until it turns out that he's really a critical person.”

A senior Obama administration official told reporters on a conference call Sunday night that suspected terrorist detainees directed U.S. intelligence to investigate a courier who is close to bin Laden, which led them to the compound where he was staying.

“One courier in particular had our constant attention,” the senior administration official said. “Detainees gave us his nom de guerre or his nickname and identified him as both a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of September 11, and a trusted assistant of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the former number three of al Qaeda who was captured in 2005.

“Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden.  They indicated he might be living with and protecting bin Laden. But for years, we were unable to identify his true name or his location,” the official continued.

“Then in August 2010, we found their residence, a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a town about 35 miles north of Islamabad,” the official later said. “The area is relatively affluent, with lots of retired military.”

“So the final conclusion, from an intelligence standpoint, was twofold,” the official said. “We had high confidence that a high-value target was being harbored by the brothers on the compound, and we assessed that there was a strong probability that that person was Osama bin Laden.”