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Did torture help lead to bin Laden?

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By Peter Bergen

(CNN) -- Did waterboarding and other coercive interrogation techniques that were used on al Qaeda detainees in CIA custody eventually lead to the Navy SEAL operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan early in the morning of May 2, 2011?


The Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday has a simple answer to that: Hell, no!


According to the Senate report, the critical pieces of information that led to discovering the identity of the bin Laden courier, Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, (Ahmed the Kuwaiti) whose activities eventually pointed the CIA to bin Laden's hiding place in Pakistan, were provided by an al-Qaeda detainee before he was subjected to CIA coercive interrogation, and was based also upon information that was provided by detainees that were held in the custody of foreign governments. (The report is silent on the interesting question of whether any of these unnamed foreign governments obtained any of their information by using torture.)


Further critical information about the Kuwaiti was also provided by conventional intelligence techniques and was not elicited by the interrogations of any of the CIA detainees, according to the report.


Even worse for the CIA -- which has consistently defended the supposed utility of the interrogation program, including in the hunt for bin Laden -- a number of CIA prisoners who were subjected to coercive interrogations consistently provided misleading information designed to wave away CIA interrogators from the bin Laden courier who would eventually prove to be the key to finding al Qaeda's leader.


The Senate report provides the fullest accounting so far of the exact sequence of intelligence breaks that led the CIA to determine that the courier, the Kuwaiti, was likely to be living with bin Laden in Pakistan.


This reads more like a careful Agatha Christie detective story than a story about the efficacy of coercive interrogations, which some have characterized as torture.


 Should CIA report have been released? Senator: 'CIA is lying' about torture


The report points out that the courier was in touch with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational commander of the 9/11 attacks, and that it was SIGINT (signals intelligence) from phones and email traffic that made this link first in 2002, well before any CIA detainees made such a connection.


Indeed, in a fascinating footnote, the report makes the case that it was "voice cuts" of the courier that were first collected in 2002 that were matched eight years later to the Kuwaiti and were "geolocated" to an area of Pakistan in 2010 where he was traveling around. This was a crucial lead that helped prompt the CIA to examine the mysterious compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where bin Laden was hiding.



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