Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Release the other half of the story on those interrogations

Mark Thiessen, who worked in the Bush administration, has a column in the Washington Post arguing that, since Obama has released the information about the interrogation techniques used, it is only right to also release the information about what was found out as a result of that information. Usually the reason not to release such information is that you don't want the enemy to know how you got that information, but that is no longer a concern since the memos have been released. So let's learn the other half of the story so people can evaluate the entire story.
In releasing highly classified documents on the CIA interrogation program last week, President Obama declared that the techniques used to question captured terrorists "did not make us safer." This is patently false. The proof is in the memos Obama made public -- in sections that have gone virtually unreported in the media.

Consider the Justice Department memo of May 30, 2005. It notes that "the CIA believes 'the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001.' . . . In particular, the CIA believes that it would have been unable to obtain critical information from numerous detainees, including [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] and Abu Zubaydah, without these enhanced techniques." The memo continues: "Before the CIA used enhanced techniques . . . KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, 'Soon you will find out.' " Once the techniques were applied, "interrogations have led to specific, actionable intelligence, as well as a general increase in the amount of intelligence regarding al Qaeda and its affiliates."

Specifically, interrogation with enhanced techniques "led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the 'Second Wave,' 'to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into' a building in Los Angeles." KSM later acknowledged before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay that the target was the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. The memo explains that "information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, and the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemmah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the 'Second Wave.' " In other words, without enhanced interrogations, there could be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York.

The memo notes that "[i]nterrogations of [Abu] Zubaydah -- again, once enhanced techniques were employed -- furnished detailed information regarding al Qaeda's 'organizational structure, key operatives, and modus operandi' and identified KSM as the mastermind of the September 11 attacks." This information helped the intelligence community plan the operation that captured KSM. It went on: "Zubaydah and KSM also supplied important information about al-Zarqawi and his network" in Iraq, which helped our operations against al-Qaeda in that country.
Thiessen points out how much of what we know about Al Qaeda was found out from these interrogations.
Yet there is more information confirming the program's effectiveness. The Office of Legal Counsel memo states "we discuss only a small fraction of the important intelligence CIA interrogators have obtained from KSM" and notes that "intelligence derived from CIA detainees has resulted in more than 6,000 intelligence reports and, in 2004, accounted for approximately half of the [Counterterrorism Center's] reporting on al Qaeda." The memos refer to other classified documents -- including an "Effectiveness Memo" and an "IG Report," which explain how "the use of enhanced techniques in the interrogations of KSM, Zubaydah and others . . . has yielded critical information." Why didn't Obama officials release this information as well? Because they know that if the public could see the details of the techniques side by side with evidence that the program saved American lives, the vast majority would support continuing it.

Critics claim that enhanced techniques do not produce good intelligence because people will say anything to get the techniques to stop. But the memos note that, "as Abu Zubaydah himself explained with respect to enhanced techniques, 'brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship." In other words, the terrorists are called by their faith to resist as far as they can -- and once they have done so, they are free to tell everything they know. This is because of their belief that "Islam will ultimately dominate the world and that this victory is inevitable." The job of the interrogator is to safely help the terrorist do his duty to Allah, so he then feels liberated to speak freely.
Former Vice President Cheney says that he has asked for the rest of the memos to be released because he knows for a fact about the information discovered from those interrogations.
"One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn't put out the memos that showed the success of the effort," Cheney said.

Cheney said he's asked that the documents be declassified because he has remained silent on the confidential information, but he knows how successful the interrogation process was and wants the rest of the country to understand.

"I haven't talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country," Cheney said. "I've now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.
The administration has no defense why it redacted the parts of the memos on what information was gained from those interrogations. They're afraid that the public would read about the techniques and see the information gained and decide that they're glad that we got that information and don't find the reports of the techniques used on these three guys all that disturbing. Perhaps some reporters can interview people working at the Library Tower in Los Angeles and see what they think.