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I found this from the NYTimes interesting:

Prisoners in American custody told stories of a trusted courier. When the Americans ran the man’s pseudonym past two top-level detainees — the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; and Al Qaeda’s operational chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi — the men claimed never to have heard his name. That raised suspicions among interrogators that the two detainees were lying and that the courier probably was an important figure.

You see? The key was the denials extracted from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Faraj al-Libi through torture. Or maybe not:

By 2005, many inside the C.I.A. had reached the conclusion that the Bin Laden hunt had grown cold, and the agency’s top clandestine officer ordered an overhaul of the agency’s counterterrorism operations. The result was Operation Cannonball, a bureaucratic reshuffling that placed more C.I.A. case officers on the ground in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

With more agents in the field, the C.I.A. finally got the courier’s family name. With that, they turned to one of their greatest investigative tools — the National Security Agency began intercepting telephone calls and e-mail messages between the man’s family and anyone inside Pakistan. From there they got his full name.

Last July, Pakistani agents working for the C.I.A. spotted him driving his vehicle near Peshawar. When, after weeks of surveillance, he drove to the sprawling compound in Abbottabad, American intelligence operatives felt they were onto something big, perhaps even Bin Laden himself. It was hardly the spartan cave in the mountains that many had envisioned as his hiding place. Rather, it was a three-story house ringed by 12-foot-high concrete walls, topped with barbed wire and protected by two security fences. He was, said Mr. Brennan, the White House official, “hiding in plain sight.”

But the denials extracted by torture in 2002 were the key. Riiiiiight.

With apologies to Kevin Drum, this operation proved yet again that besides the fact that torture is illegal and immoral, it simply does not work.

This seems a significant point to me.  On the flip my previous post on the subject.

Kevin Drum writes:

Tyler Cowen on the news that the intelligence that eventually led to the raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout may have been the result of torturing detainees at Guantanamo [. . .] This is one of the reasons that I think it's important not to put too much emphasis on practical arguments against torture. After all, if the reason you oppose torture is because torture doesn't work, then you'd better be prepared to change your mind if it turns out that torture does work. I'm not willing to do that.

Kevin is wrong. The practical argument is applicable as well as the legal and moral arguments. But first things first, Cowen simply is sort of making this up. The Haaretz column he is relying on says:

The initial lead which led to his assassination came out of interrogations of Guantanamo inmates – interrogations which often used torture, a fact that has been condemned by human rights groups. One of these interrogations, of top al-Qaida operative who was close to Khaled Shiekh Muhammad, was helpful in identifying some of bin Laden's closest aides. U.S. intelligence caught up to them and put them under surveillance. Other HUMINT sources of those part of circles close and far to him and who knew of his hideout were exposed as well. The main principle guiding intelligence officials was "follow the money." The first tips as to his hideout arrived over six months ago, after intelligence officers were able to track couriers in charge of the money transfers bin Laden orchestrated to his Pakistan hideout in order to sustain his wives as well as himself.

(Emphasis supplied.) Rather than confirming that torture had anything to do with this operation, this Haaretz article seems to confirm the opposite to me. The first tip as to this hideout arrived six months ago and was due to "following the money." How this connects to a "torture" success is not at all clear to me.

The NYTimes article Cowen relies on states:

Detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had given the courier’s pseudonym to American interrogators and said that the man was a protégé of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

American intelligence officials said Sunday night that they finally learned the courier’s real name four years ago, but that it took another two years for them to learn the general region where he operated.

Still, it was not until August that they tracked him to the compound in Abbottabad, a medium-sized city about an hour’s drive north of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

Again, no mention of torture.

Now for the next point - what was the common argument for when torture would be acceptable? The Jack Bauer ticking time bomb scenario. Even if torture was a part of this operation, and as I say, there is no evidence that there was torture involved, the ticking bomb would have blown up 6 years ago.

I suppose, to take Drum's approach, I can't argue about the inefficacy of torture here, but I will nonetheless - if torture is acceptable to gain a sliver of information that MAY, given 6 years of hard conventional intelligence work down the line, be of value, then why have any rules at all on anything? After all, anything MIGHT work at some point in the future, including massacre of civilians.

Torture is a crime. Against humanity. Against the laws of war. Against international law. And against US law.

It also does not work.

All of these are valid arguments against torture. Drum is wrong to suggest the lack of efficacy is not a legitimate argument against torture.

Originally posted to Discussing The Law: TalkLeft's View On Law and Politics on Tue May 03, 2011 at 07:11 AM PDT.

Also republished by Inherent Human Rights.

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