Bush aide: OBL death vindicates torture

May 4, 2011 at 3:30 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 4 (UPI) -- U.S. officials denied claims waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques produced vital intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

President Barack Obama continues to consider such tactics torture that betray U.S. principles for little or nothing of value, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

"It simply strains 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," he said.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told The New York Times, "The bottom line is this -- if we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003."

"It took years of collection and analysis from many different sources to develop the case that enabled us to identify this compound and reach a judgment that bin Laden was likely to be living there," he said.

The denial followed assertions by several conservatives and members of the George W. administration that "enhanced interrogation techniques," or an "alternative set of procedures," provided key information in 2003 about the courier that led to bin Laden.

Those terms were adopted by the Bush administration to describe interrogation methods used by U.S. military intelligence and the CIA to extract information from suspects captured in the "war on terror" after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"President Obama can take credit, rightfully, for the success ... but he owes it to the tough decisions taken by the Bush administration," John Yoo, a former U.S. Justice Department official in the Bush White House, wrote in National Review.

Yoo became known as the author of the Aug. 1, 2002, "torture memos" that argued the use of mental and physical torment and coercion -- such as prolonged sleep deprivation, binding in "stress positions" and waterboarding -- was "legally permissible" under an expansive interpretation of presidential authority.

Yoo -- whose memo also advocated hypothermia, in which a prisoner is made to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees while being regularly doused with cold water to increase the rate at which heat is lost from the body -- said bin Laden's death justified such harsh interrogations.

"Without the tough decisions taken by President Bush and his national security team, the United States could not have found and killed bin Laden," Yoo wrote separately in a blog of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Obama, who called such tactics torture when he campaigned for president, signed an executive order Jan. 22, 2009, two days after being sworn in, requiring the CIA to use only the 19 interrogation methods outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual on interrogations, conforming with Geneva Convention guidelines, "unless the attorney general with appropriate consultation provides further guidance."

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News the success of the bin Laden hunt was due to waterboarding.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., later said none of the intelligence "came as a result of harsh interrogation practices."

"There clearly was no smoking gun of a direct correlation between waterboarding and finding this suspect," Geneve Mantri, government relations director for terrorism and counterterrorism and human rights at Amnesty International USA, told Britain's Guardian newspaper, referring to the courier who eventually led investigators to bin Laden's hiding place.

The courier, who was identified as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, was among those who died in Monday's raid, the Times said.

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