WaPo: How CIA interrogation turned KSM into an intelligence asset

I don’t know whether to applaud them for publishing this or boo them for dumping it on the day of Teddy’s funeral. In another universe it’d be a narrative-shatterer but in this one it’s noise, for the simple reason that nothing — nothing — will dent the absolutism of the anti-“torture” side. Any fair-minded supporter of enhanced interrogation would concede that it’s morally problematic, that the info extracted may be unreliable, that it’s susceptible to abuse; opponents concede nothing, up to and including (or especially) the fact that sometimes it might just work. They can’t. If they did, they’d have to join the rest of us in honestly struggling with whether the ends of possibly saving innocent lives is justified by the means of inflicting suffering on someone in custody. And given how most Americans would resolve that dilemma — and how Obama’s interrogation team will surely resolve it if, god forbid, the situation ever presents itself — that’s not something they have any incentive to do.

So here’s how this’ll be spun. Unless a detainee sits up on the table mid-waterboarding and coughs up everything he knows, there’s no way to conclude that information given up after enhanced interrogation was the result of that interrogation. The fact that KSM kept his mouth shut good and tight until the CIA got rough with him? Just an amazing coincidence. Correlation does not equal causation; “torture” never works; “ticking bomb” scenarios will never exist in reality; wash, rinse, repeat.

These scenes provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques…

Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again.

“What do you think changed KSM’s mind?” one former senior intelligence official said this week after being asked about the effect of waterboarding. “Of course it began with that.”…

One former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out said Mohammed, like several other detainees, seemed to have decided that it was okay to stop resisting after he had endured a certain amount of pressure.

“Once the harsher techniques were used on [detainees], they could be viewed as having done their duty to Islam or their cause, and their religious principles would ask no more of them,” said the former official, who requested anonymity because the events are still classified. “After that point, they became compliant. Obviously, there was also an interest in being able to later say, ‘I was tortured into cooperating.'”

It’s a canard of EIT opponents that non-coercive interrogation will be more effective, but if you take that bold-faced part seriously, that’s simply not true for the sort of hardcore jihadist freak who populates the upper echelons of Al Qaeda. In fact, it suggests that even if they want to talk, they might be religiously enjoined until a certain amount of pressure is applied. That’s a disturbing complication to the moral dilemma here, which of course doesn’t exist for the absolutists.

Read the whole piece, as WaPo also cautions that KSM claimed he gave plenty of false information to interrogators in order to stop the waterboarding. I believe it, but I also believe the details in Stephen Hayes’s post for the Standard about how info from KSM helped the feds bust an Al Qaeda mule in 2003. Read all of that too, as it’s an indispensable gloss on the WaPo piece — bearing in mind, of course, that if you oppose enhanced interrogation now, nothing you’re about to encounter will change that even a tiny bit.

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David Strom 10:41 AM on February 02, 2023