Former CIA Interrogator: Painstaking Intelligence Work, Not Torture, Responsible For Bin Laden Capture

Shortly after President Obama announced that U.S. military forces killed Osama bin Laden, right-wing torture apologists seized the opportunity, stating, without any definitive evidence whatsoever, that information gleaned from torturing Al Qaeda detainees led to bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan. While reliable sources, such as Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said this week that the information did not come from torture (or to use the Bush administration’s term “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”), at this point it is at best unclear how this information was obtained.

What if a tiny piece of information that led to bin Laden came from torture or EITs? Today, Glenn Carle — who served 23 years in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and for a time led the interrogation of a high value detainee — told ThinkProgress that if it the answer is yes, the right-wing will use that and say, “See torture works.” While Carle said it’s possible that EITs might provide information, that doesn’t mean they should ever be used:

CARLE: Well I change the tense and say not that they will use that but that they are using that within I think four hours of the announcement that bin Laden’s death.

Ultimately you get to an ends means debate. … The ends does not justify the means and you don’t build a policy, in this instance with regard to acceptable legal procedures, based upon the hypothetical, theoretical case which is five or ten standard deviations from the norm which happens one time in 5 million. What you do is you base your policies on an ever-changing calculus of probability likelihood and what is considered liked and works. And the answer to all of those questions should quite clearly exclude EITs. Is it possible that a specific piece of information from time to time would come from EITs? The answer is yes. To be fair the answer is yes. Does it justify using them? A categorical flat no.

Carle also said that during his time at CIA, “almost all the information obtained from EITs was recalled…because it was viewed as unreliable.”

Those on the right justifying torture argue that “harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier,” as the New York Times noted this morning. But the initial information on the courier is minuscule in comparison to the wider effort that led to bin Laden. “The critical point,” Carle noted, “is that intelligence is a painstaking slow process of building a mosaic. Little pieces of which are meaningless by themselves and together may paint a useful picture which is what happened in this case.”

When asked if any of the information that led to bin Laden could have been obtained without torture, Carle said, “Yes,” adding, “EITs are wrong, illegal, and they don’t work.”

Cross-posted at the Wonk Room.