- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2014

Senate Democrats’ argument that harsh CIA interrogations played no role in finding Osama bin Laden revolves in crucial ways around the life of Hassan Ghul.

It was Ghul, an al Qaeda operative who moved between Pakistan and Iraq, who turned out to be the most informative biographer of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. It was al-Kuwaiti who eventually led the CIA to bin Laden’s home address in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

To Democratic staffers who wrote the Dec. 9 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, the gems Ghul presented after capture came before coercive questioning. The Democrats, in a report based solely on thousands of pages of intelligence memos, emails and studies, asserted that he provided nothing of value afterward.

Republican committee members present an entirely different set of facts — using the same documents. They say Ghul became more expansive, providing details in 2004 that led CIA analysts to focus like a laser on identifying the mystery man known as al-Kuwaiti, who was born Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed and also went by the honorific Abu Ahmed.

The CIA eventually found al-Kuwaiti. Culminating one of the world’s longest manhunts, he unwittingly led American spies to the walled compound where bin Laden lived with a scant security detail, his youngest wife and al-Kuwaiti.

Senate committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein’s release of the 499-page report seemed to have two prime motives.

SEE ALSO: MICHAEL HAYDEN: Democrats politicize CIA torture report

One was to reveal CIA interrogation methods that included waterboarding three al Qaeda chieftains, sleep deprivation, nudity and forced standing in shackles. Some human rights groups have called the methods torture.

Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat, also wanted to dispel the argument from former CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, a fellow Democrat, and George W. Bush administration officials who said enhanced interrogations were critical to the bin Laden hunt.

Ghul was captured while traveling to meet with Abu Zarqawi, an especially brutal Sunni extremist who led al Qaeda in Iraq, a group that killed thousands of Iraqis, especially Shiites.

Ghul eventually landed in a CIA black site in Turkey where, a CIA officer later said, “he sang like a tweetie bird. He opened up right away and was cooperative from the outset.”

The prisoner guessed that bin Laden was living in the Peshawar area of Pakistan and that the shadowy al-Kuwaiti, the courier, was his “closest assistant” and “always” with him.

“Ghul speculated that Abu Ahmed [al-Kuwaiti] likely handled all of [bin Laden’s] needs, including moving messages out to” another al Qaeda chieftain.

The next day, the CIA moved him to the black site.

Ghul was shaved, stripped and forced to stand against the wall with his hands above his head for 40 minutes. Questioned, he provided no new information. Officers described him as “somewhat arrogant and self important.”

His handlers argued to Langley headquarters that he knew more than he was saying. They asked for permission to turn up the pressure, and the reply was an immediate “Yes.”

The Democratic staff report contends that “during and after the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, Ghul provided no other information of substance on al-Kuwaiti.”

“The most accurate intelligence from a detainee on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti was acquired prior to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques,” the Democrats’ report said.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the committee’s top Republican, and his staff looked at the same reports and came to a 180-degree different conclusion: Ghul provided more specific information on al-Kuwaiti that made analysts look in new directions to identify him.

The Republican report quoted a CIA document as saying, “After undergoing enhanced techniques, Ghul stated that Abu Ahmed [al-Kuwaiti] specifically passed a letter from bin Laden to Abu Faraq in late 2003 and that Abu Ahmed had ‘disappeared’ from Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002. This information was not only more concrete and less speculative, but it also corroborated information from [another al Qaeda member].”

That detainee said Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in custody since 2003, was lying when he claimed al-Kuwaiti left al Qaeda in 2002.

CIA analysts figured that the only reason Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would lie about this particular operative was because he knew the courier could lead Americans to bin Laden.

The U.S. located al-Kuwaiti, who had a speech impediment, sometime around 2009. Voice samples from 2001-02 intercepts were compared with more current ones. The locations led the CIA to believe he was in a specific area in Pakistan. His exact location was determined by geolocation — zeroing in on an Internet or a wireless device he was using.

That, then, is the debate. Senate Democrats say no new information came from Ghul; the CIA says it did, and it was pivotal.

“Contrary to CIA representations,” Mrs. Feinstein said Dec. 12, after the CIA publicly rebutted her report, “This intelligence operation did not rely on information from CIA detainees after they were subjected to the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques.”

Her statement listed an intelligence chronology in which the U.S. learned of al-Kuwaiti and his close association to bin Laden from a number of sources beginning shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The CIA’s declassified 2013 rebuttal to Mrs. Feinstein’s work disagrees. Former CIA officials depicted her work as a partisan hatchet job in which Democratic staffers cherry-picked sentences in reports that bolstered their arguments and left out material that supported the CIA.

The official rebuttal makes the point that just because officers knew of a topic, or individual, before coercive interrogation does not void the fact that valuable information was obtained.

For example, Ghul coughed up tactical details about al Qaeda operations in the Pakistani town of Shkai.

Said the rebuttal, “That intelligence differed significantly in granularity and operational [redacted] from what he provided before enhanced techniques. As a result of his information, we were able to make a [redacted].”

The rebuttal [which refers to Ghul as Gul] added, “CIA continues to assess that the information derived from Hassan Gul after the commencement of enhanced techniques provided new and unique insight into al-Qa’ida’s presence and operations in Shkai, Pakistan.

“Before Gul’s capture in January 2004, sources of varying credibility gave general information about the town’s importance as an emerging al-Qa’ida safehaven, but Gul’s debriefings were the most definitive first-hand account of the identities, precise locations, and activities of senior al-Qa’ida members in Shkai at that time. As a result of the information Gul provided, [redacted].”

Concerning the critical identification of al-Kuwaiti, the CIA said harsh interrogations provided information that set him apart from other bin Laden facilitators, including eventually helping learn his true name.

“CIA has never represented that information acquired through its interrogations of detainees was either the first or the only information that we had on Abu Ahmad,” the rebuttal said. “We have reported — and continue to assess — that the information we acquired from them significantly advanced our understanding of Abu Ahmad [al Kuwaiti] beyond the other intelligence cited in the [Democrats’] Study.”

Hassan Ghul’s biography reads like those of other detainees in the war on terrorism. The CIA transferred him to Pakistani authorities, who promptly released him. He went back to fight for al Qaeda, as have scores of other freed detainees.

On Oct. 1, 2012, the CIA assassinated him with a Predator drone strike. His location was determined by the National Security Agency using a series of intrusive cybertechniques, The Washington Post reported based on former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaked documents.

As for al-Kuwaiti, he was killed by SEAL Team 6 in the raid that also vanquished bin Laden.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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