May 8, 2011

In Focus: Bin Laden hunt shows CIA tactics at work

Techniques prove key in revealing what detainees won't divulge as well as information they give up.

By ADAM GOLDMAN and MATT APUZZO The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
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TWO PIECES OF THE PUZZLE: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, above, and Abu Faraj al-Libia, below, both onetime al-Qaida operational leaders, at first denied knowing one of al-Qaida’s most important couriers, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. Suspecting lies, the CIA reasoned that if they could find al-Kuwaiti, they could find Osama bin Laden. And years later al-Kuwaiti did unwittingly lead the agency to bin Laden in Pakistan.

The Associated Press

Abu Faraj al-Libi
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The Obama administration has labeled waterboarding torture. While Attorney General Eric Holder has said he will not prosecute any officers who followed the rules laid out by CIA, White House and Justice Department lawyers, he has appointed a prosecutor to review cases in which detainees died.

CIA officers involved in finding bin Laden said they are frustrated that the entire detention and interrogation program and the killing of bin Laden have been reduced to a debate over waterboarding.

"People can debate the value of any single piece of information that may or may not have come from a program like that," said Rob Dannenberg, the former chief of operations at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, who retired in 2007. "But in the aggregate and over the course of time, you are going to unravel the best clandestine organizations in the world with patience and persistence."

Obama shuttered the CIA's prison system soon after taking office. Human rights advocates cheered the end of a system in which detainees were held indefinitely, without access to lawyers or the International Committee of the Red Cross, as is normally required.

Critics accused the president of abandoning the strategy that had worked, of capturing terrorists and questioning them. Instead, the U.S. has increased airstrikes from unmanned Predator drones, which have killed terrorists in the tribal regions along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We weren't capturing people anymore, they were just ending up dead in the tribal areas," said Bob Grenier, who ran the Counterterrorism Center from 2004 to 2006.

When that happens, Grenier said, the CIA doesn't get to inspect cellphones or documents or whatever else is in the room during the capture.

"They take their secrets with them," Grenier said.

Obama was unable to fulfill his pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison, where suspected terrorists are held. He had hoped to move many onto U.S. soil for trial, but political opposition stalled that effort. Now, if the CIA captures a major terrorist abroad, it's unclear what the U.S. would do with him.

Though the CIA prisons are closed, Afghanistan is one possibility. There, the U.S. military maintains a network of secret jails where detainees are being held and interrogated for weeks, including one run by the elite special operations forces at Bagram Air Base in Kabul.


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