Thiessen: US EITs were used to ‘elicit cooperation’ rather than gain intelligence

In light of all the back and forth that has taken place in the aftermath of the bin Laden termination, specifically the renewed debate on the effectiveness of aggressive interrogations, Bush-era administration official and counterterrorism expert Marc Thiessen explains in a great column in the Washington Post what the enhanced interrogation techniques used by US intelligence agencies were actually designed to do (bolded emphasis added by me):

Already, critics are desperately trying to play down the CIA interrogation program’s role in the bin Laden operation. Many are pointing to an Associated Press report that KSM “did not discuss al-Kuwaiti while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He acknowledged knowing him many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic.”

This statement demonstrates ignorance of how CIA interrogations worked. Interrogators would never have asked about the names of couriers during waterboarding. As I explain in my book, “Courting Disaster,” enhanced techniques were not used to gain intelligence; they were used to elicit cooperation. According to former CIA director Mike Hayden, as enhanced techniques were applied, CIA interrogators would ask detainees questions to which the interrogators already know the answers — allowing them to judge whether the detainees had reached a level of compliance. “They are designed to create a state of cooperation, not to get specific truthful answers to a specific question,” Hayden said.

Once interrogators determined a terrorist had become cooperative, the techniques stopped and traditional, non-coercive methods of questioning were used. Moreover, the use of enhanced techniques wasn’t needed for two-thirds of the detainees in CIA custody.  Just the experience of being brought into CIA custody — the “capture shock,” arrival at a sterile location, the isolation, the fact that they did not know where they were and that no one else knew they were there — was enough to persuade most of them to cooperate.

Thanks to President Obama, this program, which helped lead us to bin Laden, is no longer part of America’s counterterrorism arsenal. Indeed, outside of the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been no reported U.S. detentions of high-value terrorists since Obama took office. Earlier this year, Umar Patek, the highest-ranking terrorist captured alive at this point in the Obama administration, was taken into custody by Pakistani authorities. Patek had traveled from Southeast Asia to Abbottabad — the same place where bin Laden was hiding. Coincidence? What was Patek doing in Abbottabad? With whom did he meet and what did they discuss? He should be in CIA custody answering such questions.

Absolutely, but that’s something this administration will never admit.  President Bush took a lot of bashing during his 8 years in office over his reluctance to admit mistakes, but President Obama – unsurprisingly – has pretty much gotten a pass on that same reluctance.  Bush eventually admitted he made mistakes with respect to post-war Iraq, wishing there were things he had done differently, lamenting the fact that there were people in his inner circle who he should have listened to but didn’t. 

On the other hand, grave, deadly mistakes in judgment by our celebrity President date back for years, most notably in 2008 over his outright refusal as the Democrat nominee for President to admit that the surge in Iraq – which he strongly opposed as a junior Senator from Illinois – had resulted in less violence in Iraq, which greatly aided in paving the way for civil, structural, and political progress.  This, too, is yet another example of this President’s absolute shameless hypocrisy and self-serving posturing and grandstanding.  He and his administration have been taking credit for the progress made in Iraq over the last few years when more or less all they have done is presided over the natural course of events that have taken place as a result of the success of the surge that President Bush authorized and put into place – a surge Bush once opposed but came around to support, and eventually implement.  This is what effective, mature leaders do.  They learn from their mistakes, try to make up for them, and move forward –  hoping for the best outcome.

Sadly, our current President is not that kind of leader – not that we didn’t know this well before he was elected to the WH, of course.  No doubt President Obama will finish out his first term – and if elected again, his second – without ever admitting that the most significant, high value, much-sought-after enemy termination in modern US history, if ever, came in part as a direct result of the use of aggressive counterterrorism techniques in secured overseas facilities – both of which he strongly condemned on both ideological and so-called “principled” grounds going back to his time in the Illinois state senate.  Yet, as recent history has shown us, while he openly denounces Bush’s wartime and counterterrorism policies, Obama surely has not minded reaping the rewards that have come of them.   What does this tell us about the character of the “leader of the free world”?  Quite a bit – none of it good.

In light of all this, it makes sense that President Bush decided against accepting President Obama’s invitation to join him today at Ground Zero, especially if this news story is accurate (hat tip):

WASHINGTON – George W. Bush won’t be at Ground Zero with President Obama Thursday in part because he feels his team is getting short shrift in the decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden.

“[Bush] viewed this as an Obama victory lap,” a highly-placed source told the Daily News Wednesday.

Bush’s visit to the rubble after the 9/11 attacks was the emotional high point of his presidency, but associates say the invitation to return with his successor was a non-starter.

“He doesn’t feel personally snubbed and appreciates the invitation, but Obama’s claiming all the credit and a lot of other people deserve some of it,” the source added.

“Obama gave no credit whatsoever to the intelligence infrastructure the Bush administration set up that is being hailed from the left and right as setting in motion the operation that got Bin Laden. It rubbed Bush the wrong way.”

Bush spokesman David Sherzer said Bush “appreciated the invite, but has chosen in his post-presidency to remain largely out of the spotlight.”

Associates familiar with his thinking say Bush does not believe Obama or his handlers wanted to exploit his presence. But the tag-team idea “was for the benefit of Obama, and Obama withheld credit from people Bush believes deserved it,” a source said.

Can’t say as I blame W.  He’s been a post-presidential class act all the way.  The guy who took his place, on the other hand, well, unfortunately – that’s a different matter altogether.

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