Two books on interrogation by Matthew Alexander are reviewed in the context of Osama bin Laden’s execution, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s waterboarding, and the US debate on torture.
By Matthew Alexander with John R. Bruning
Free Press. 289 pp. $26
By Matthew Alexander
St. Martin’s Press. 292 pp. $25.99
By Gary Kern
OBL & KSM
When President Barack Obama announced the assassination of Osama bin Laden (OBL) on Sunday night of May 1 this year, nearly a decade after the al-Qaeda “planes operation” against New York city and Washington DC succeeded with devastating effect, members of the George W. Bush administration, which had failed to locate the leader of al-Qaeda anywhere in the world for seven years, felt obliged to explain their spectacular failure.
In the days immediately following the surprise announcement, former administration officials―Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, senior advisor Karl Rove, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and afterwards Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Michael Hayden, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, legal counsel to the Department of Justice John Yoo and press secretary Dana Perino―all appeared on television talk shows and presented a united defense. The apparent failure, they said, was actually a success, or contained the seed of success, because the policies instituted by President Bush to prosecute the Global War on Terror had produced the name of bin Laden’s courier, and the unabated effort to locate and track him was what eventually led to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where the head of al-Qaeda was found in a room on the third floor and shot down.
In particular, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Mukasey, Hayden and Yoo cited the program of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) as the primary tool that turned up the crucial clue. Mukasey claimed that al-Qaeda terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM) “broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding.” In the flood of information he released, said Mukasey, was the nickname of bin Laden’s trusted courier. Since KSM was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on 1 March 2003, and since his multiple waterboardings occurred that same month, it would follow from Mukasey’s account that the nickname of the courier was obtained at that time, eight years ago.
Also appearing on the talk shows, most of which were broadcast the following Sunday, May 8, was President Obama’s national security advisor, Tom Donilon. On Meet the Press, he graciously conceded that the killing of OBL was the result of “an effort across two administrations.” Some of the same intelligence men, he said, had worked on the problem across the political divide. Here, too, the implication, however unintended, was that the EIT program, based on methods of torture used by Communist China, North Korea and the Soviet Union, all enemies of the United States in the Cold War and condemned as torturers by the US throughout that period, had paid off.