More and more evidence suggests a key piece of intelligence — the first link in the chain of information that led U.S. intelligence officials to Osama bin Laden — wasn’t tortured out of its source. And, indeed, that torture actually failed to produce it.
“To the best of our knowledge, based on a look, none of it came as a result of harsh interrogation practices,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a wide-ranging press conference.
Moreover, Feinstein added, nothing about the sequence of events that culminated in Sunday’s raid vindicates the Bush-era techniques, nor their use of black sites — secret prisons, operated by the CIA.
“Absolutely not, I do not,” Feinstein said. “I happen to know a good deal about how those interrogations were conducted, and in my view nothing justifies the kind of procedures that were used.”
This is a mix of fresh, on-the-record information and push back against Republicans — many of them former Bush administration officials — who are tying themselves in knots to claim that Bush’s interrogation policies got the ball rolling on the bin Laden killing.
“I would assume that the enhanced interrogation program that we put in place produced some of the results that led to bin Laden’s ultimate capture,” said former Vice President Dick Cheney on Fox News.
Here’s Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, also on Fox: “We obtained that information through waterboarding. So for those who say that waterboarding doesn’t work, who say it should be stopped and never used again, we got vital information which directly led us to bin Laden.”
Feinstein went even further, claiming that change to U.S. intelligence processes ushered in by the Obama administration were seminal in capturing bin Laden.
“I think the red-teaming of the intelligence was significant, and they red-teamed and red-teamed and red-teamed. And of course what that means is they looked for reasons why what they had as a piece of intelligence might not be accurate, or might indicate something else,” Feinstein said. “And that’s a very good process — it’s a solid process — because it exposes weaknesses in the intelligence…. It didn’t happen over the Iraq National Intelligence Estimate.”
Feinstein further claimed that the Obama administration’s decision to reconstitute the CIA’s bin Laden unit — which the Bush administration shuttered in 2005 — was a key factor in the mission’s ultimate success. “I think it was very crucial,” she said. “I mean this has been there for a substantial period of time. People become experienced with the intelligence.”
Not all Republicans are claiming that bin Laden’s killing vindicates torture. At a Capitol press conference Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) stood apart from his colleagues in the GOP. “This idea we caught bin Laden because of waterboarding I think is a misstatement,” he said. “This whole concept of how we caught bin Laden is a lot of work over time by different people and putting the puzzle together. I do not believe this is a time to celebrate waterboarding, I believe this is a time to celebrate hard work.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.