By Kyle | December 19, 2012
I’ve read a lot of media stories about how Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain say harsh interrogation techniques did not lead to Osama Bin Laden. “Zero Dark Thirty” says otherwise (despite the hedging of filmmakers Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, who have an interest in not appearing to support conservative positions -they want to win Oscars that are voted on by a left-liberal Academy.)
McCain went so far as to get a private letter from former CIA director Leon Panetta last year. McCain and the others have been saying that Panetta’s letter supports their version of events, and now they are publicly calling on the makers of “Zero Dark Thirty” to admit their film is a lie.
I think McCain, who has a personal emotional stake in the matter of torture, is simply hearing what he wants to hear from Panetta. Panetta’s letter was not nearly as direct as McCain’s statements; it was, as I said in my Sunday column, carefully parsed and full of loopholes that are consistent with the story told in “Zero Dark Thirty.”
This ABC News story is one of the few that are fair-minded and tries to reconcile Panetta’s statement with one by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey that harsh interrogation was critical in finding Bin Laden.
Panetta told McCain the following:
“We first learned about the facilitator/courier’s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002.” He said that some detainees who had been subject to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false information about the courier.
Both of these ideas are expressed in the film. A file on the courier is in CIA hands before the harsh interrogation scene — but the file has been lost and no action has been taken on it. It’s only when the nickname, Abu Ahmed, of the courier comes up again during a harsh interrogation, that the CIA begins to join the dots and think this is a person of great significance.
Panetta also said:
In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts.
Again, consistent with the movie. The CIA got the nickname, not the full true name, of the courier from the waterboarded detainee. They located the courier on their own, without using harsh interrogation. (In the movie, they buy a yellow Lamborghini for a snitch in Kuwait in exchange for Abu Ahmed’s mother’s phone number. Listening in to the mother’s phone calls, they note that Ahmed has been calling from various locations, never the same place twice, and that he lied about where he was calling from. They eventually get a trace on his cellphone, follow him through the streets in a car until they find him talking on his cellphone, get a picture of him, then set up “pickets” on the roads out of town with instructions to call in if they see Abu Ahmed’s car. One of these pickets spots Ahmed going into the Abbottabad compound.
The statement leaves open the possibility that both Mukasey and Panetta are correct. Panetta refers to the “full true name” of the courier, while Mukasey, in an appearance Monday at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, said KSM disclosed “the nickname” in the course of the questioning that took place after the enhanced interrogation techniques.