Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey amped up the public debate over whether torturing terror detainees eventually led U.S. intelligence to Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. On May 6, Mukasey wrote that the info on bin Laden — specifically the name of his courier — “began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM)” after he was waterboarded, while McCain publicly challenged Mukasey, writing that CIA Director Leon Panetta told him that KSM had not provided the courier’s name.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent obtained Panetta’s letter to McCain and pointed out that it undercuts Mukasey’s version of events. From Pannetta’s letter:
Let me further point out that we first learned about the facilitator/courier’s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier’s role were alerting.
In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.
As Sargent points out, “Panetta’s account contradicts Mukasey’s claim that the trail to Bin Laden ‘began’ with disclosures from Khalid Sheikh Muhammed that were achieved through the ‘pressure’ of torture.”
So, Mukasey’s account is now discredited right? Not according to ABC News. ABC picked up on the story and concluded that Panetta’s statement “leaves open the possibility that both Mukasey and Panetta are correct.” But the problem here is that ABC focuses on a completely different, and somewhat less relevant point: whether KSM provided “the nickname” of bin Laden’s courier. ABC points to Panetta’s statement that “no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts,” leading to its conclusion that Mukasey could also be right in that KSM provided a “nickname.”
But the other problem with this is that according to available evidence, it was actually the CIA that told KSM the nickname of bin Laden’s courier and he repeatedly misled interrogators about his identity, the New York Times reports:
But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times — repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity. […]
According to an American official familiar with his interrogation, Mr. Mohammed was first asked about Mr. Kuwaiti in the fall of 2003, months after the waterboarding. He acknowledged having known him but said the courier was “retired” and of little significance.
The Los Angeles Times similarly reported that “al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his successor, Abu Faraj Libbi — gave their interrogators false information about the courier.”
So Mukasey is not only wrong that the trail to bin Laden “began” with KSM, but also, it was the CIA that gave KSM the “nickname” of bin Laden’s courier, not the other way around. That doesn’t leave much room for the “possibility” that — as ABC News has it — Mukasey is correct.