The killing of Osama bin Laden was a great victory for the U.S. intelligence community, but it may well be the last one because of the Obama administration’s refusal to use tough tactics such as waterboarding on terror suspects, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey warns.
The information that led U.S. agents to bin Laden could not have been obtained without stringent interrogation methods, Mukasey writes in The Wall Street Journal.
Michael Mukasey: Obama administration demoralizes intelligence personnel. (Getty Images Photo) “Consider how the intelligence that led to bin Laden came to hand. It began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [KSM], who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information – including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden,” writes Mukasey, who was the nation’s top law enforcement officer under President George W. Bush from 2007 to 2009.
The Obama administration prevents intelligence officers from doing their work to the best of their ability, he said.
“Policies put in place by the very administration that presided over this splendid success promise fewer such successes in the future. Those policies make it unlikely that we’ll be able to get information from those whose identities are disclosed by the material seized from bin Laden. The administration also hounds our intelligence gatherers in ways that can only demoralize them,” he said in the opinion piece published Friday.
Practices such as waterboarding, in which a suspect’s head is held underwater until he believes he is drowning, are used only in extreme cases in which agents know the prisoners have vital information, Mukasey said.
“The harsh techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA. Of the thousands of unlawful combatants captured by the U.S., fewer than 100 were detained and questioned in the CIA program. Of those, fewer than one-third were subjected to any of these techniques,” he said.
Mukasey quoted former CIA Director Michael Hayden as saying that, “as late as 2006, even with the growing success of other intelligence tools, fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of [al-Qaida] came from those interrogations.”
Far from resorting to illegal methods to obtain information, Muksaey said, the Bush administration “put these techniques in place only after rigorous analysis by the Justice Department, which concluded that they were lawful.”
The Bush administration’s decision to call these methods “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which he described as “absurdly antiseptic,” gave rise to unfounded suspicions that the phrase must be a euphemism for something truly beyond the pale.
The former attorney general said that, in April 2009, the Obama administration released previously classified Justice Department documents on the interrogation techniques – “thereby disclosing them to our enemies and assuring that they could never be used again.”
The current administration, in deciding to turn interrogation duties over to the FBI instead of the CIA, had not ensured that its new policies were properly in place, Mukasey said.
Thus, he said, when Omar Faruq Abdulmutallab was caught trying to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 with explosives hidden in his underwear, no one was quite sure how to handle him. The Nigerian national was read his Miranda rights, like an ordinary criminal suspect, but “no one had yet gotten around to implementing the new program.”
Although the administration had not yet determined how to handle terror suspects, it had found time to pursue investigations against CIA employees who already had been cleared of any wrongdoing, Mukasey said.
“Yet the Justice Department, revealing its priorities, had gotten around to reopening investigations into the conduct of a half-dozen CIA employees alleged to have used undue force against suspected terrorist,” Mukasey wrote in the WSJ.
Those investigations had been closed formally two years earlier, with no charges filed. Years later, he said, the investigations drag on with no charges in sight, with “prosecutors chasing allegations down rabbit holes, with the CIA along with the rest of the intelligence community left demoralized.”