Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cheney finishes and delivers memoir

Ill health had delayed it. Slated for an August 30 release

Dick Cheney, 70, has been diagnosed with end-stage heart failure and had an operation last summer to fit his body with a battery-powered device that helps his heart pump blood. He told Fox News recently that he was undecided over whether to seek a heart transplant.

His daughter said that working on the book was “a far more enjoyable project than he probably anticipated when he began it.” He wrote out the first draft in longhand and would sometimes dictate passages to Liz Cheney. She said that he will do promotion for the book.

Meanwhile, “He’s feeling good and he’s getting ready for the first fishing trip of the season.”

Bin Laden’s Errand Boy and the Great Enhanced Interrogation Debate:

To coin a phrase, the “national conversation” on torture... er... enhanced interrogation techniques’…er...[damn semantics]… er…the-handful-of-coercive-interrogation-techniques-used-on-a- handful-of-AQ-bigwigs has been re-energized due to the claim that the identity of the courier that led us to Uncle Binnie’s Rabbit Hut and PornoPalace was ascertained thanks to information initially given by AQ bigs after they had been ‘broken’ by use of some subset of the aforementioned coercive techniques.

This claim was set forth in the first of what is now amounting to a flurry of missiles…er…missives on the subject, some claiming that the coercive techniques did play a vital causal role in IDing the thumb drive carrying Errand Boy, others saying that there was no substantial connection.

What we see, when we read the various missiles/missives is that clarity is lacking in the narrative. It is a rather complex, and still classified story. That is to be expected. Nevertheless, I vainly attempt to clear it up. I think the best job of cleaning up the ambiguity comes from Andy McCarthy at NRO. So, I’ll end up with his piece. But, before we do that, let’s hit the replay button, looking at one of the first missiles, one from a former USAG.

An early fusillade came from Mike Mukasey, May 6. In a story accompanied by the always obligatory and amusing picture of ManBearPig…er...the disheveled and hirsute Sasquatch…er… KSM, he made the claim that the courier’s ID was given up by Squatch…er… MBP…er…KSM only AFTER he had been broken by use of the water board:

Consider how the intelligence that led to bin Laden came to hand. It began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.

Mukasey also goes to some pains to establish that we would probably have NOT been in a position to break KSM if some subset of the coercive techniques had not first been applied to Abu Zubaydeh (AZ) and Ramzi bin al Shihb (RBAS). Why? Simple; we would probably NOT have captured MBP/KSM/Squatch in the first place.

That regimen of harsh interrogation was used on KSM after another detainee, Abu Zubaydeh, was subjected to the same techniques. When he broke, he said that he and other members of al Qaeda were obligated to resist only until they could no longer do so, at which point it became permissible for them to yield. "Do this for all the brothers," he advised his interrogators.

Abu Zubaydeh was coerced into disclosing information that led to the capture of Ramzi bin al Shibh, another of the planners of 9/11. Bin al Shibh disclosed information that, when combined with what was learned from Abu Zubaydeh, helped lead to the capture of KSM and other senior terrorists and the disruption of follow-on plots aimed at both Europe and the United States.
So the basic timeline according to the Mukasey WSJ article:

1. We capture AZ, use coercive techniques on him.

2. Sometime after use and termination of these techniques, he gives forth with information sufficient for us to find and capture RBAS, who;

3: Gave forth with information that led to MBP/KSM/Squatch. [We do not know, on the basis of this account whether or not RBAS was also subjected to some subset of the coercive techniques.]

4. MBP/KSM/Squatch was not sufficiently cooperative with giving forth of information until he was subjected to the waterboard . Only after that technique was used did Squatch become a veritable hirsute fount of information. He has been holding forth with gusto ever since that day he was broken.

5. One of the bits of information he gave was a name used by one of Uncle Binnie’s couriers, “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti” (Errand Boy).

6. This name is cross checked with info and interrogation of other AQ big detainees, Errand Boy was eventually identified, and his location established (Hey Abbottabad).

7. More careful observation in situ, Paks not informed.

8. SEALS sent in; malignant porno addicted narcissuses escorted off this mortal coil. Ditto Errand Boy.

Thus spake Mukasey.

Next, John McCain went to the pages of the WaPo with return fire. He, unlike other Hao Lo veterans, Bud Day, Leo Thorsness and Jeremiah Denton, is dead set against giving waterboarding any legal sanction. No need to go into that argument here. We are only concerned with chronology. Sen. McCain answered the Mukasey missive with an argument that Mukasey’s timeline purposefully fails to mention and locate another AQ big who was in fact the first person to actually have named Errand Boy. He in essence calls Mukasey a willful dissembler:

Former attorney general Michael Mukasey recently claimed that “the intelligence that led to bin Laden . . . began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information — including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.” That is false.

I asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he told me the following: The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden — as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda.
If McCain is correct, we need to do some serious revision to the ‘trail to Uncle Binnie’ timeline. Spot number one should be given to this un-named detainee who “we believe” to not have been tortured. Who would this “detainee held in another country” be? Also, if “we believe” this to be true about his treatment, the reader can only infer this means that he was not being held by ‘us’, but by some un-named foreign entity. Clearly, we need more details to assess the veracity of this sketchy account. We turn to the pages of the Monday edition of the WaPo to find a finer grained account, offered as return fire to McCain’s return fire. Marc Thiessen, author of Courting Disaster:

In a speech on the Senate floor last week, Sen. John McCain dismissed the role of CIA interrogations in the operation that got Osama bin Laden, declaring that “The first mention of the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti [bin laden’s courier], as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country. The United States did not conduct this detainee’s interrogation, nor did we render him to that country for the purpose of interrogation.”

His statement was carefully worded, technically correct and completely misleading.

I interviewed several former senior intelligence officials after McCain’s speech. Every one of them told me that they first learned about al-Kuwaiti from CIA detainees, not from a detainee in another country. I was told that McCain was referring to an old foreign liaison report that included a passing reference to al-Kuwaiti, but that CIA officials did not become aware of this report until many years later, after CIA detainees had alerted them to al-Kuwaiti’s importance. They only found it because they had ordered a “deep dive” on him — scouring all their databases for everything they could find about the bin Laden courier — based on intelligence from detainees.

Many officials did not remember the report at all — a sign of how little importance it held. Those that did said the agency would never have come across the old report had they not already been looking for al-Kuwaiti, and it told them nothing useful that they did not already know. So while the report may technically have been the “first mention” of al-Kuwaiti, the CIA did not “learn” about bin Laden’s courier from this report — it learned about him from the questioning of high-value terrorists, many of whom underwent enhanced interrogation.

As one former CIA official with direct knowledge told me, “Detainees provided the information regarding the courier network and Ahmed in particular that started this whole thing. None of it came from another detainee from another location.”
Notice here, that Thiessen’s account has a bit of wiggle room itself. CIA learned of Errand Boy via interrogation of AQ bigs “many of whom” were subject to EIT. That carries the logical implication that some bigs were not subject to the techniques. Application of logic shows it is possible, given that description, that the info concerning Errand Boy came from one of those AQ bigs that had not been subject to coercive techniques. Is that the case? Remember, Mukasey’s account places the origination point at post EIT prolix Sasquatch. What does Thiessen say?

McCain’s speech, and his Post op-ed piece, were replete with technically correct but misleading assertions such as this. For another example, McCain declared in his speech: “None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda.” Of course, since only three of the roughly 100 CIA detainees underwent waterboarding, McCain’s statement conveniently glossed over about 97 percent of those questioned by the CIA.

Note that McCain did not claim that none of the detainees who underwent enhanced interrogation techniques gave us “key leads” on the courier — because he knows this would be false. Moreover, after being waterboarded, Khalid Sheik Mohammed did confirm al-Kuwaiti’s kunya (or nom de guerre), which is the name the courier actually used. And the fact that both KSM and his successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi, attempted to protect al-Kuwaiti was the red flag that alerted CIA officials to his importance.
The claim here is that useful information (including Errand Boy’s nickname) did come from Squatch after he had been waterboarded, which, when combined with other information, derived from sources that may or may not have been subject to EIT, ultimately led to Uncle Binnie.

Now, at this point we are still not particularly clear on who this foreign held source of McCain’s is, the guy being held by foreign entities who ‘we believe’ not to have been tortured by that foreign entity. Is this guy the source of the information Thiessen says was contained in a ‘foreign liaison report’? That brings us to Andy McCarthy’s piece in National Review:

The shameful fact is that McCain is well aware that the name of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti was known to the CIA long before the agency questioned this “detainee held in another country” — namely, Hassan Ghul, an al-Qaeda operative captured in Iraq in 2004. Yet McCain misleads readers into supposing that it was through Ghul that the CIA first learned of al-Kuwaiti’s existence. The senator does not make this claim outright, because he knows it would be false. Instead, he ambiguously conflates the first mention of the courier’s name with details like the description of the courier as “important,” as well as the courier’s whereabouts and his role in the terror network. By this sleight of hand, McCain gives himself deniability were anyone to call him on creating a misimpression (as Mukasey later did).

And Mukasey’s “call” (emphasis mine)

KSM disclosed the nickname — al Kuwaiti — along with a wealth of other information, some of which was used to stop terror plots then in progress. He did so after refusing to answer questions and, when asked if further plots were afoot, said that his interrogators would eventually find out. Another detainee, captured in Iraq, disclosed that al Kuwaiti was a trusted operative of KSM’s successor, abu Faraj al-Libbi. When al-Libbi went so far as to deny even knowing the man, his importance became obvious.
 So, it would appear the timeline can be further fleshed out at step 6. So far, we don’t have reason to think Mukasey was being dishonest. What’s the picture? The follow up investigations of information given by Sasquatch involved the questioning of at least two further individuals; Hassan Ghul and Faraj al-Libi. Libi was the person who filled Sasquatch’s office once he was captured. Ghul? Who the heck is Ghul? Another big wig, held in Iraq for some time, then apparently moved to the custody of our erstwhile friends the Paks, and then apparently released by the selfsame freaking Paks. He’s back in the fight. Ain’t that good news folks? What say Thiessen’s sources about the Ghoul? From McCarthy:

Thiessen … is emphatic: He spoke with several former senior intelligence officials about McCain’s claims, and every one confirmed that the CIA learned about al-Kuwaiti and bin Laden’s courier system from the al-Qaeda detainees who were interrogated in the CIA program — not from Ghul or from an Iraqi government account of its own questioning of Ghul.
In fact, when it comes to the identity of Errand Boy, the CIA knew of him before the apprehension of the Ghoul:

Tom Joscelyn, the nonpareil terrorism researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, notes that al-Kuwaiti’s name was given to the CIA during the questioning of Mohammed al-Qhatani, who was captured during the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. Qhatani was the would-be 20th hijacker who was stopped from entering the United States during the latter stages of the 9/11 plot, and he became cooperative only after being subjected to harsh interrogation (though he was not waterboarded). Qhatani knew al-Kuwaiti because, at the direction of KSM, al-Kuwaiti had trained him in the use of e-mail and other communications aspects of the 9/11 plot. KSM, of course, was captured in 2003 largely because of information learned in the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, both of whom were waterboarded. As Mukasey correctly said, KSM himself broke after waterboarding and gave up, among many other things, al-Kuwaiti’s name.

So, the name was given by MAQ before it was given by KSM. This would seem to indicate that Mukasey’s account is wrong, and that McCain’s is also wrong. But, that would be an inaccurate (though literally true) impression to take away from the story. The name of the courier was known as of at that early date, BUT the significance of the person was not. Only after KSM gave the name, AND only after the normal follow up on information, that is; only after other detainees were used as cross checks against the KSM fount of information, did it dawn on the CIA analysts and/or interrogators that they had a very important lead. Only then did they begin to realize that Errand Boy was pretty dang blamed important. By the reactions of al-Libi, the Ghoul and KSM, they were able to see this guy was important. Once again, McCarthy (emphasis mine):

McCain curiously makes much of the fact that KSM and al-Libi sought to protect al-Kuwaiti — the former by minimizing his role, the latter by withholding his true name. But as any good interrogator will tell you (and as any layman who has ever sat on a jury can attest), what a witness lies about can be just as edifying as what he comes clean on. In this instance, given what the CIA knew about al-Kuwaiti from all sources, the lies and obfuscations of KSM and al-Libi served to underscore his importance — they were a boon, not a distraction.
Add to that, al-Libi was on the receiving end of EIT (not including waterboarding), as was the Ghoul, and you do not have a very good case that the EIT were of little consequence in tracking down Uncle Binnie’s Bunny Ranch. From the just-linked Reuters piece (emphasis mine):

Did waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other "enhanced interrogation techniques," a phrase critics call a euphemism for torture, ultimately work? Or did such tactics muddy the search for bin Laden? Did old-fashioned, persistent investigation prevail in the end?

The debate is unlikely ever to be settled. But multiple U.S. intelligence officials told Reuters the real breakthrough that led to bin Laden came from a mysterious CIA detainee named Hassan Ghul. Ghul, who was not captured until 2004 at the earliest, was not subjected to waterboarding, the CIA's roughest and most controversial interrogation technique. It had already been phased out by the time he was captured. But two U.S. officials acknowledged he may well have been subjected to other coercive CIA tactics, possibly including stress positions, sleep deprivation and being slammed into a wall.

It was Ghul, the officials said, who after years of tantalizing hints from other detainees finally provided the information that prompted the CIA to focus intensely on finding Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti, pseudonym for the courier who would lead them to bin Laden.

Much about Ghul remains obscure, including his nationality. Two U.S. officials told Reuters, however, that at some point the CIA turned him over to authorities in Pakistan. The officials said their understanding is that in 2007, Pakistani authorities released him from custody. The officials said the U.S. government now believes Ghul has once again become a frontline militant fighter.

Leaving Ghul aside, it remains unclear whether the brutal interrogations -- which Obama banned upon taking office -- were effective or not.

The available facts, bolstered by evidence from secret Guantanamo detainee files made public by the WikiLeaks organization, suggest that some of the first information U.S. intelligence received about Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti surfaced in 2002, when the harshest elements of the CIA interrogation program were still in force.

Two high-ranking al Qaeda operatives, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (who was waterboarded repeatedly) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi (who was not), were questioned about the courier, current U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence said. Both tried to steer interrogators onto a different track, which only piqued the CIA's interest further, the officials said.

The chain of events seems pretty clearly to be much as Mukasey describes, but with some alterations. We do have to include the fact that the first mention of Errand Boy occurred when Mohammed al-Qhatani was interrogated, using EIT (no waterboarding). After that, KSM also gave the name, along with truckloads of other valuable information. This he did post EIT. In following up on his information, further AQ bigs were taken, interrogated, and played off against one another and KSM. These included al-Libi and Ghul, al-Libi’s deputy. A pattern of obfuscation emerged in how these three responded when questioned about al-Kuwaiti (Errand Boy.) The inference was drawn that this guy was very important, and could lead to Bin Laden. The captures of KSM, al-Libi and Ghul were all greatly aided by information taken after EIT exposed subjects had become compliant. All other things being equal, IF no use of EIT had been made, then the likelihood of any of this having occurred would have OBVIOUSLY been significantly less. An objective look at the complete story strongly leads us to this conclusion. Quite apart from the moral arguments, this modal argument looks hard to refute.

More on the moral arguments from some ancient turgidly written posts from this blog (which are in chronologically mixed up order I’m afraid):