WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate investigation concludes waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods provided no key evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to congressional aides and outside experts familiar with a still-secret, 6,200-page report. The finding could deepen the worst rift in years between lawmakers and the CIA.
The CIA disputes the conclusion and already is locked with the Senate intelligence committee in an acrimonious fight amid dueling charges of snooping and competing criminal referrals to the Justice Department. The public may soon get the chance to decide, with the congressional panel planning to vote Thursday to demand a summary of its review be declassified.
From the moment of bin Laden’s death almost three years ago, former Bush administration figures and top CIA officials have cited the evidence trail leading to the al Qaeda mastermind’s walled Pakistani compound as vindication of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” they authorized after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But Democratic and some Republican senators have called that account misleading, saying simulated drownings known as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other such practices were cruel and ineffective.
The intelligence committee’s report, congressional aides and outside experts said, backs up that case after examining the treatment of several high-level terror detainees and the information they provided on bin Laden. The aides and people briefed on the report demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the confidential document.
The most high-profile detainee linked to the bin Laden investigation was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused 9/11 mastermind who was waterboarded 183 times. Mohammed, intelligence officials have noted, confirmed after his 2003 capture that he knew an important al Qaeda courier with the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.
The Senate report concludes such information wasn’t critical, according to the aides. Mohammed only discussed al-Kuwaiti months after being waterboarded, while he was under standard interrogation, they said. And Mohammed neither acknowledged al-Kuwaiti’s significance nor provided interrogators with the courier’s real name.
The debate over how investigators put the pieces together is significant because years later, the courier led U.S. intelligence to the sleepy Pakistani military town of Abbottabad. There, in May 2011, Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in a secret mission.
In previous accounts, U.S. officials have described how al-Libi made up a name for a trusted courier and denied knowing al-Kuwaiti. Al-Libi was so adamant and unbelievable in his denial that the CIA took it as confirmation he and Mohammed were protecting the courier.
Essentially, they argue, Mohammed, al-Libi and others subjected to harsh treatment confirmed only what investigators already knew about the courier. And when they denied the courier’s significance or provided misleading information, investigators would only have considered that significant if they already presumed the courier’s importance.
The aides did not address information provided by yet another al-Qaida operative: Hassan Ghul, captured in Iraq in 2004. Intelligence officials have described Ghul as the true linchpin of the bin Laden investigation after he identified al-Kuwaiti as a critical courier.
In a 2012 news release, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., acknowledged an unidentified “third detainee” had provided relevant information on the courier. But they said he did so the day before he was subjected to harsh CIA interrogation. “This information will be detailed in the Intelligence committee’s report,” the senators said at the time.