The death of Osama bin Laden reignited debates over Bush-era detention policy. On Monday, conservatives rushed to claim that the CIA was only able to locate bin Laden as a result of information gained during "enhanced interrogation" sessions. While the details of the hunt for bin Laden are still being laid out, The New York Times reports that waterboarding and other morally questionable tactics played little to no role in locating bin Laden.
A closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. One detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier, according to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment --including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times --repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity.
It appears that tortured suspects revealed the most valuable information during traditional interrogation sessions. As I noted Monday, torturing terrorists proved largely counterproductive, as KSM's ridiculous claims during waterboarding sessions forced investigators to question the validity of any information provided.
Despite the lack of evidence for enhanced interrogation's role in pinpointing bin Laden, Bush apologists have rushed to defend the tactics over the past few days. Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA officer responsible for destroying tapes of the disputed interrogations, defended the program as essential for uncovering necessary information. This line of thought has already entered the 2012 presidential race, with Rick Santorum crediting enhanced interrogation during an interview on Monday.
“I hope the president will stand up and finally admit that he was wrong and that this in fact was beneficial to our country,” Santorum told TheIowaRepublican.com prior to a speech in Pella. “It’s interesting that if the enhanced interrogation techniques result in capturing Bin Laden, (Obama’s) great foreign policy victory would not be something that he would be able to have, but for something that he found to be a great problem within the Bush administration.”
Bin Laden's demise will likely dominate discussion during the Republican presidential debate tomorrow in South Carolina. The debate is the first official event on the 2012 presidential calendar and will direct the tone for the early stage of the Republicans' campaigns. With a smaller docket of participating candidates -- only five Republicans will share the stage -- Santorum has the opportunity to push the general GOP view of civil liberties during the Bush-era further to the right, though his stance will likely be opposed by the two libertarian candidates, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.