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Torture Is Still Torture

Torture Is Still Torture

By Eugene Robinson - May 6, 2011

WASHINGTON -- It wasn't torture that revealed Osama bin Laden's hiding place. Finding and killing the world's most-wanted terrorist took years of patient intelligence gathering and dogged detective work, plus a little luck.

Once again, it appears, we're supposed to be having a "debate" about torture -- excuse me, I mean the "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding, that were authorized and practiced during the Bush administration. In fact, there's nothing debatable about torture. It's wrong, it's illegal, and there's no way to prove that the evidence it yields could not have been obtained through conventional methods.

President Obama ended these practices. Torture remained a stain on our national honor, but one that was beginning to fade -- until details of the hunt for bin Laden began to emerge.

According to widespread reports, the first important clue in the long chain leading to bin Laden's lair came in 2004 from a Pakistani-born detainee named Hassan Ghul, who was held in one of the CIA's secret "black site" prisons and subjected to coercive interrogation. Ghul was not waterboarded but may have been offered other items on the menu, including sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures and being placed in painful "stress positions" for hours at a time.

Ghul reportedly disclosed the nom de guerre of an al-Qaeda courier -- Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti -- who appeared to have access to the terrorist organization's inner circle. The CIA was able to deduce that Ghul was referring to a man they had heard of before, a trusted aide who might know where bin Laden was hiding.

Two of the highest-ranking al-Qaeda leaders who were taken into U.S. custody -- operations chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded repeatedly, and Abu Faraj al-Libi, who was not waterboarded but was subjected to other harsh interrogation techniques -- pointedly declined to talk about al-Kuwaiti. Ghul, however, described al-Kuwaiti as a close associate and protege of both Mohammed and al-Libi. CIA analysts believed they might be on the right track.

It was, of course, just one of many tracks that might have led to bin Laden. This and other trails went hot and cold until last summer, when al-Kuwaiti made a phone call to someone being monitored by U.S. intelligence, who then watched his movements until he led them in August to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where bin Laden was cornered and killed.

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eugenerobinson@washpost.com

Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

Eugene Robinson

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