A Victory For Torture? Obama Officials Attempt To Justify Torture in Claiming False Credit For Bin Laden Killing

Current members of the Obama Administration (as well as former Bush officials) are claiming that all that torture under President Bush finally paid off in supplying the leads to eventually finding Osama bin Laden’s hideout. What is striking is not only the lack of any support for the claims, but the immediate effort of Obama officials to justify torture. No doubt these are the same officials supporting Obama’s decision to bar prosecution of individuals who carried out the torture — and later barring the investigation of those who ordered the torture.

Obama officials were claiming the positive proceeds from torture within hours of the killing. The officials are crediting the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohammed’s successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi.

However, as pointed out by sites like Wired, the claim does not jive with the facts. At most, the officials are claiming that Mohammed and al-Libi revealed the courier’s nom de guerre, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. However, a senior administration official admitted that “for years, we were unable to identify his true name or his location” and that his real name was revealed four years ago. That was in 2007 after the end of the torture program. Indeed, the critical act appeared to be a phone call made by the courier to someone under American surveillance.

Of course, none of this should matter. Just as the Bush officials continually responded to war crime allegations by claiming that the torture produced good intelligence, international law does not have an exception for beneficial acts of torture. It is a prohibited act and a war crime. Yet, Obama officials are not only justifying torture but suggesting that the use of torture is somehow legitimated if anything usable is derived from it.

Notably, when asked in Congress, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he was unsure of the contribution of evidence from torture –stating that the operation was the result of a “mosiac” of sources. What is disturbing, however, is that once again Holder does not point out that gaining usable evidence from torture is no justification for the war crime under international law or basic principles of morality. Panetta also equivocated on whether torture helped without making the slightest acknowledgment that it is a prohibited war crime regardless of its value or success.

It is equally interesting to see CIA officials stoking such stories and (rightfully) questioning the culpability of Pakistani intelligence. However, what does Bin Laden living for years in a huge compound say for our current intelligence capabilities? We heard continual CIA reports of Bin Laden being in caves and other locations. If the story is true that he was in area for years, shouldn’t there also be some question of our own capabilities since we have long said that we could not trust Pakistani security officials? There is no question that the CIA and military performed brilliantly once they identified the site. However, there is little discussion about the failure on our part (putting aside Pakistan) to locate the site — particularly with claims of prior intelligence from foreign agents in Pakistan and India.

In the end, it is distressing to see Obama officials so quickly seek to legitimate torture. The President has admitted that waterboarding is torture. Torture is a war crime. Yet, here officials are seeking to immediately shape the story in terms of the value of torture.

Jonathan Turley

70 thoughts on “A Victory For Torture? Obama Officials Attempt To Justify Torture in Claiming False Credit For Bin Laden Killing”

  1. Does this mean we have to go back and vacate (sorry, is that the right term?) all those war crime sentences for torture we applied to Japanese soldiers after WWII?

  2. Elaine,
    great videos. I have to agree that the evidence is overwhelming that torture did not provide any substantial information that led to the killing of OBL. Holder’s response is just another example of the Obama Administration walking on egg shells so as not to upset the Bush torture crowd.

  3. culheath,

    “I say we torture everyone for a day and then take a poll on how people feel about it.”

    Agreed – but only if we start with those in the Bush Admuddlestration ….

  4. Elaine M,

    Oh, my! How could I have missed such an outstanding “jurist” … thanks for the reprimand and the clip 🙂

  5. Ms. EM,

    I especially liked when former Air Force Officer Alexander spoke about his oath.

    Anon Nurse,

    Mr. Greenwald is always a must-read columnist.

  6. “DOJ Report: Torture Memo Author John Yoo Said Bush Could Order “Massacre” of Whole Villages
    Despite this latest disturbing revelation, Yoo’s culpability in Bush administration abuses has been deemed “poor judgment,” not a violation of “professional standards.””

    Why Yoo hasn’t been disbarred is beyond me … and he’s now teaching … law …

  7. http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/story/index.html?story=/opinion/greenwald/2011/05/04/torture

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 07:30 ET

    The illogic of the torture debate

    By Glenn Greenwald


    Exactly the same is true for the torture techniques used by the Bush administration and once again being heralded by its followers (and implicitly glorified by media stars who keep suggesting that they enabled bin Laden’s detection).

    It makes no difference whether it extracted usable intelligence. Criminal, morally depraved acts don’t become retroactively justified by pointing to the bounty they produced.

  8. DOJ Report: Torture Memo Author John Yoo Said Bush Could Order “Massacre” of Whole Villages
    Despite this latest disturbing revelation, Yoo’s culpability in Bush administration abuses has been deemed “poor judgment,” not a violation of “professional standards.”
    By Jason Leopold

    Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo argued that President George W. Bush’s commander-in-chief powers were so sweeping that he could willfully order the massacre of civilians, yet Yoo’s culpability in Bush administration abuses was deemed “poor judgment,” not a violation of “professional standards.”

    That downgrading of criticism by the Justice Department — regarding the legal advice from Yoo and his boss at the Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee, to Bush’s White House and the CIA — means that the department will not refer them to state bar associations for possible disbarment as lawyers.

    But an earlier version of the report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that the legal advice warranted the sterner conclusion and thus possible disbarment.

    The judgment was softened by career prosecutor David Margolis, who was put in charge of the final recommendations and who said he was “unpersuaded” by OPR’s “misconduct” conclusion, which faulted Yoo and Bybee for their approval of torture techniques that were used against terrorism suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

  9. A good kind of torture (A favorite early 1960s oldie)

  10. Elaine,

    “Former Military Interrogator Matthew Alexander: Despite GOP Claims, “Immoral” Torture “Slowed Down” Effort to Find Osama bin Laden”

    Excellent clip – thanks

  11. “Senator says Feinstein torture did not play a role.”

    I always suspected that Feinstein ran her own torture program. In fact, she tortures me every time I read, see, or hear her.

    Oh wait! Was Feinstein herself tortured and she did not spill the beans about her involvement in backroom deals with big corporation spenders?

    (JK, SM)

  12. 2manyusernames sez:
    “Trying to claim that torture can never be effective or is actually counter-effective is a bit of a cop-out. It is too often something said by those who are anti-torture but can’t stand up to questions asking if it can ever be justified or not. If you claim it isn’t effective than you don’t have to face such questions.”


    This is unadulterated nonsense. Horse apples. See my comment up-thread. Torture, or as the Bush/Cheney/Yoo/Rumsfeld cabal calls it, “enhanced interrogation.” That procedure bears about as much resemblance to a competent interrogation as burning at the the stake resembles a girl scout marshmallow roast.

    Watch my lips: No credible information will ever be gained from torture, no matter how much makeup you put on it. I know more about extracting confessions from people than most who comment on this blog, and I am telling you I will have nothing to to with mistreating a prisoner. In fact, if I knew a prisoner had been subjected to any kind of third degree before I did any questioning, I would refuse to take the case.

    There is a problem, not only with fruit of the poison tree, but there is something called ‘contamination’ as well as ecological validity problems. So, no sir, we are not going there. Not only due to the risk of being involved in a war crime, but the very high chance of both Type I and Type II errors. Type I & II errors can make you look like an idiot when the truth comes out.

  13. Okay. That’s just about enough. I’m taking a news break before I burst into flames.

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