Rumsfeld and other US officials say torture didn't help catch bin Laden

Reports from present and former senior US officials, including Donald Rumsfeld, indicate that waterboarding and other forms of torture practiced by the US and its allies were not useful in locating Osama bin Laden. Rather, traditional military intelligence techniques — covert operatives, surveillance — yielded the intelligence that led to bin Laden's assassination. This confirms earlier White House discussion of the intelligence that led to ObL's death.

The senior administration official told reporters on Sunday that "for years, we were unable to identify his true name or his location." It took until "four years ago" — 2007, then — for intelligence officials to learn al-Kuwaiti's real name. By then, President Bush had ceased waterboarding and shuttered the black sites, moving the detainees within them, including Mohammed and al-Libbi, to Guantanamo Bay. In a Monday interview, Donald Rumsfeld said "normal" interrogation techniques were used at Gitmo on those detainees.

If this timeline is correct — and there may be a lot of adjustment to it in the days and years to come — then that means waterboarding and other abusive techniques failed to get the name out of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi. A New York Times account has both men claiming not to know even the courier's nom de guerre, which actually may have counted as a kind of confirmation by omission in this case. That says something about the limits of brute force in interrogation.

It took more traditional sleuthing to get al-Kuwaiti's real name, according to the Times. That meant putting more operatives on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan to track him, yielding a partial name. Once they had that, they unleashed "one of their greatest investigative tools": the National Security Agency's surveillance net. The NSA monitored email and phone traffic until they had his full name: Shaikh Abu Ahmed.

Surveillance, Not Waterboarding, Led to bin Laden

(Image: Richard Wilkinson original illustration for limited edition Little Brother 08)