No Comment — August 31, 2009, 3:10 pm

WaPo: Mystery man says waterboarding works

On Saturday the Washington Post published a remarkable article concerning 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. We are introduced to Professor KSM—a man so willing to talk that he conducted classes for American intelligence officers, lecturing on Greek philosophy and Al Qaeda dogma, upbraiding his students for failing to pay attention, and even using a chalkboard as a prop. So what turned this hardened terrorist into a tutor for the agency?

According to a “former senior intelligence officer” who “requested anonymity because the events are still classified,” KSM was brought around through the use of torture. Techniques applied to KSM included sleep deprivation and waterboarding.

Considering that the CIA’s own declassified report on intelligence gained from KSM fails to make such claims—even though the Bush Administration was plainly hoping it would do just that—the WaPo story raised some questions.

For starters, who is the “former senior intelligence officer”? I have a strong suspicion. His remarks are similar to remarks made on several occasions by former CIA Director George Tenet and contained in his book, At the Center of the Storm. Specifically, Tenet aggressively defends the use of waterboarding by claiming that it produced results. He mentions Abu Zubaydah in the process, though not KSM. (CBS News’s Scott Pelley challenged him on KSM during a Sixty Minutes interview in which Tenet came across as extremely evasive.) But if it is Tenet, why grant him anonymity with respect to statements that are virtually identical to claims he already made on the record? That would reflect a bizarre editorial judgment.

The justification advanced is that the “events are still classified.” Is that really accurate? In fact, the CIA just declassified and released the case study. There are some redactions, it is true, but almost all of the account has been made public and is therefore now fair game for comment. So the rationale advanced for keeping the identity secret doesn’t really withstand scrutiny. Perhaps there’s another reason that WaPo isn’t disclosing.

Anyone who was actually involved in waterboarding KSM participated in a crime according to the testimony that Attorney General Holder gave before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He may also wind up being a target of a criminal investigation arising out of the process that Holder initiated on Monday. In other words, this individual has a strong reason to want to shut down the prospect of a criminal investigation and might be willing to dissemble to that end. The major argument being made for avoiding the investigation is the one that Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz have been rehearsing across the airwaves: torture works! The Post has now become the first newspaper to add credibility to these claims. And by protecting the identity of the source, it has robbed the reader of the ability to test whether the remarks are dictated by self-interest.

If the waterboarding of KSM gave interrogators access to information that earlier interrogators could not obtain, why doesn’t the CIA’s report and analysis say that? It doesn’t, as even Frances Townsend was forced to concede in a CNN interview. Yet Dick Cheney was pressing hard for just such an account.

Are the claims that KSM wasn’t cooperating before he was tortured correct? Actually, a good amount of contrary evidence exists. It starts with Yosri Fouda’s Al Jazeera interview with KSM. Fouda found KSM remarkably proud of his involvement in Al Qaeda strikes and delighted to talk about them, with the camera rolling. And indeed, little of what KSM said in that interview turns out to be dissembling—unlike a large number of wholly implausible claims KSM made after being subjected to waterboarding. In her book The Dark Side, Jane Mayer musters an impressive list of sources making the same claim, essentially that KSM was a cooperative witness from the get-go.

In his report, the CIA’s inspector general called for a careful expert study of the efficacy of the new techniques introduced by the Bush Administration. George Tenet and his successor didn’t want to hear anything of it. I wonder why. Since the release of the CIA report, Senator Leahy and Congressman Conyers have renewed their call for a commission to get to the bottom of the torture issue. The Washington Post has not made a credible case that waterboarding works, but it is making the case for a commission to study the sordid history of torture as U.S. government policy. This study should include a cold factual analysis of the claims made by Dick Cheney and his mysterious Agency ally.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2014

The End of Retirement

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Octopus and Its Grandchildren

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Francis and the Nuns

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Return of the Strongman

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
 
 Jessica Bruder on the end of retirement, Mary Gordon on the new Vatican, Laura Kipnis on narcissism, and more
Article
The End of Retirement·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“For those riding the economy’s outermost edge, adaptation may now mean giving up what full-time RV dwellers call ‘stick houses’ to hit the road and seek work.”
Photograph (detail) © Max Whittaker
Post
God Lives on Lemon Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Bethel was Oz-like for me. I mean that with all the awe, utter hopefulness, and mythic fear with which Dorothy and her friends had approached that magical city.”
Photograph (detail) ©© Clemens v. Vogelson (Flickr)
Article
The Octopus and Its Grandchildren·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Stanford University’s origins and vision
“The pervasive fantasy that Silicon Valley doesn’t need the government obscures the role of that government in funding much of the research that built it.”
Photograph © Sallie Dean Shatz
Post
World Cup Boom and Bust·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’m not giving a dime to FIFA. You know they’re not paying taxes on any of this?”
Photograph © The author

Chance that an American believes Ramadan is the Jewish day of atonement:

1 in 10

Mathematicians discovered the existence of a pseudoprime that is the sum of 10,333,229,505 known primes and contains roughly 295 billion digits but cannot be represented precisely because the mathematician who found it lacks sufficient RAM.

On the eve of Independence Day in Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko delivered a speech in Belarusian instead of Russian for the first time in 20 years, disproving rumors that he can no longer speak the language.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today