The aftermath of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination finds many in the left and liberal community seeking to hold on to their worldview by praising the attack and its conclusion and by attributing it entirely to President Barack Obama. Doing so, however, presents this group with some major problems. First, it is now quite clear that the intelligence information that led to the successful raid was compiled over many years, and key intelligence was in fact gathered during the years of the Bush administration. Most important of all was the identification of Bin Laden’s “courier,” a man who on a regular basis kept the al-Qaeda chief in touch with the world outside of his million-dollar compound.
As the front-page New York Times report by Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper points out, intelligence agencies had been trying for close to a decade to identify the man. They learned of him, however, when “detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had given the courier’s pseudonym to American interrogators and said that the man was a protégé of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.” They learned his real name four years ago — when the government was led by the very men liberals despised the most, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
President Obama, of course, deserves the credit for planning the mission to take down Osama Bin Laden, and for giving the go ahead to the secret Navy SEAL team. As the report explains, “he had to approve the final plan to send operatives into the compound where the administration believed that Bin Laden was hiding.” I do not intend to take that accomplishment away from the president. But my point is simple: were it not for the prior work of the Bush/Cheney administration, President Obama would not be in the position to have put the operation into effect.
Moreover, it is also clear that much of the information that led to the courier’s identity came from the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the very mechanism that regularly led to charges of torture, abuse of power, illegal U.S. spying techniques, waterboarding, rendition, and questioning in secret facilities abroad where those interrogating the detainees did not have to abide by methods forbidden to be used within the United States.
In another Times story by Mazzetti, Cooper, and Peter Baker, the journalists put it this way:
The raid was the culmination of years of painstaking intelligence work, including the interrogation of C.I.A. detainees in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, where sometimes what was not said was as useful as what was. Intelligence agencies eavesdropped on telephone calls and e-mails of the courier’s Arab family in a Persian Gulf state and pored over satellite images of the compound in Abbottabad to determine a “pattern of life” that might decide whether the operation would be worth the risk.
Indeed, as the intelligence reporter Michael Isikoff, now with NBC News, reported yesterday:
The trail that led to the doorstep of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan began years earlier with aggressive interrogations of al-Qaida detainees at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and CIA ‘black site’ prisons overseas, according to U.S. officials.
It was those sometimes controversial interrogations that first produced descriptions of members of bin Laden’s courier network, including one critical Middle Eastern courier who along with his brother was protecting bin Laden at his heavily fortified compound in Abbottabad on Sunday.
According to Isikoff, early information about the courier for Bin Laden came from none other than “Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was subjected to some of the most humiliating interrogations at Guantanamo. Among the enhanced interrogation techniques used on him were being forced to wear a woman’s bra, being led around on a leash and forced to perform dog tricks and being subjected to cold temperatures that twice required his hospitalization, according to a later U.S. military report.”
Others have disputed this, but Isikoff, who wrote for Newsweek and covered the intelligence community for years, is known to have reliable sources and to be a reporter who does not write what he has not been able to confirm. He does say that no information came from waterboarding itself, but clearly, if at a later date Khaled Sheikh Mohammed or Qahtani came forth with solid information, one could clearly argue that the fear of being waterboarded again encouraged them to start talking and to give solid information. As Isikoff puts it, “After Qahtani was subjected to some of the humiliating interrogations at Guantanamo that later became public, he started to cooperate and, for a while, provided a wealth of information about al-Qaida, including references to the courier in question, the U.S. official said.”