3) On intelligence obtained through torture
Following his defense of the interrogation techniques authorized by the administration, Cheney continued: “Did it produce the desired results? I think it did. I think, for example, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the number three man in al-Qaeda, the man who planned the attacks of 9/11, provided us with a wealth of information. There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al-Qaeda came from that one source.”
THE LIE: With exquisite timing, Cheney’s bombastic pronouncements about the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and its supposed value coincided with the publication, in Vanity Fair, of an article by David Rose, in which a number of senior officials from both the FBI and the CIA directly refuted Cheney’s claims. The article, which is worth reading in its entirety, focused primarily on the torture of Abu Zubaydah, Binyam Mohamed and Jose Padilla (which I have discussed at length before), but there were also key insights into the torture of KSM. Although President Bush claimed that KSM had provided “many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans,” a former senior CIA official, who read all the interrogation reports from KSM’s torture in secret CIA custody, explained that “90 percent of it was total fucking bullshit,” and a former Pentagon analyst added, “KSM produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.”
In addition, Cheney’s claims about KSM were directly contradicted by Jack Cloonan, a senior FBI operative whose torture-free interrogation of al-Qaeda operatives in the years before 9/11 provides an object lesson in how the administration should have operated afterwards. Disputing the unspecified claims that, as Cheney put it, the interrogation of KSM had produced “a wealth of information,” Cloonan said, “The proponents of torture say, ‘Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods.‘ But if KSM and Abu Zubaydah did give up stuff, we would have heard the details.” Rose added that a former CIA officer asked, “Why can’t they say what the good stuff from Abu Zubaydah or KSM is? It’s not as if this is sensitive material from a secret, vulnerable source. You’re not blowing your source but validating your program. They say they can’t do this, even though five or six years have passed, because it’s a ‘continuing operation.’ But has it really taken so long to check it all out?”
However, what was probably the most damning opinion was offered by FBI director Robert Mueller:
I ask Mueller: So far as he is aware, have any attacks on America been disrupted thanks to intelligence obtained through what the administration still calls “enhanced techniques”?
“I’m really reluctant to answer that,” Mueller says. He pauses, looks at an aide, and then says quietly, declining to elaborate: “I don’t believe that has been the case.”