One of the telling details in the so-called torture report that betrayed that the so-called torture was so-called was: the pulse ox sensor on the fingertip during waterboarding to make sure the oxygen saturation in the bloodstream never got too low. Hard to picture something as torture when I see it every week on Grey’s Anatomy.
Take the example of Ammar al-Baluchi. In the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” the torture of al-Baluchi is depicted as revealing the key piece of intelligence identifying Osama bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. In 2011, the CIA was able to find and kill bin Laden because it had tracked the movements of al-Kuwaiti.
The CIA’s rebuttal to the Senate report says al-Baluchi gave up much more specific information on al-Kuwaiti after he went through the agency’s harsh interrogations. The Senate report, however, says al-Baluchi gave up al-Kuwaiti first to the Pakistanis.
A footnote on page 399 of the Senate report says al-Baluchi was arrested along with another al-Qaeda operative, Khallad bin Attash, by Pakistani authorities on April 29, 2003. “Upon his arrest in Pakistan, Ammar al-Baluchi was cooperative and provided information on a number of topics to foreign government interrogators, including information on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti that the CIA disseminated prior to al-Baluchi being transferred to CIA custody,” the footnote says.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine that al-Baluchi’s interrogation by the Pakistanis met Geneva standards. A former senior Pakistani diplomat who spoke to me on condition of anonymity said it’s likely that al-Baluchi and other detainees mentioned in the report were tortured; threatened with torture; or told that their family members would be in danger if they did not cooperate. “After 9/11, there was enormous pressure on the Pakistani services to produce intelligence for the Americans,” this diplomat said. “I cannot believe al-Baluchi’s interrogation in 2003 would have met international standards.”
Other current and former U.S. intelligence officials told me that it was almost a certainty that al-Baluchi was at the very least threatened with torture when he was in a Pakistani jail.
Take another case:
In the case of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an al-Qaeda operative picked up by Pakistani authorities on Sept. 11, 2002, the report implies that harsh interrogation did produce valuable intelligence. Shortly after his arrest, the report says, the Pakistanis sent bin al-Shibh to a third foreign government. The report doesn’t name that country, but it has been reported bin al-Shibh was sent to a jail in Morocco. In early 2003, the Moroccans sent bin al-Shibh to a CIA black site. While he was in Moroccan custody, CIA headquarters at first was dubious of the intelligence taken from bin al-Shibh, but CIA officers on the ground said the bulk of his information was useful intelligence.
Indeed, the reporting from bin al-Shibh contributed to learning about al-Qaeda plots in the Arabian peninsula and against Heathrow Airport outside London, according to the Senate report. “Personnel at CIA Headquarters concluded in 2005 that the most significant intelligence derived from bin al-Shibh was obtained during his detention in foreign government custody, which was prior to his rendition to CIA custody and the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation technique,” the report says.
Again, we don’t know for certain what happened at that Moroccan site, but we have a pretty good idea.
If there are terrorist suspects to interrogate, I’d rather have our boys with their IV drips, portable MRIs, and doctors on call than the Pakistanis with their electrodes or the Moroccans with their pliers. But then, I’m not a grandstanding Democrat faking outrage and indignation.