Bin Laden and the Debate Over Torture–Revived

Some former U.S. officials responsible for torture under the Bush administration have claimed that the trail to Bin Laden was uncovered by the use of torture. The Telegraph (London) reports:

Jose Rodriguez, the agency’s former head of counterterrorism, said vital information had come from bin Laden deputies Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Aby Faraj al Libbi, who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

–Gordon Rayner, “Osama bin Laden dead: torture unlocked bin Laden hideout ex-CIA man says — Key intelligence that led the US to Osama bin Laden’s hideout was obtained under torture in secret “black site” prisons, a former CIA officer has claimed, The Telegraph, May 5, 2011.

John Yoo, the author the legal memoranda authorizing torture under the Bush administration, writes is on Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal:


Sunday’s success also vindicates the Bush administration, whose intelligence architecture marked the path to bin Laden’s door. According to current and former administration officials, CIA interrogators gathered the initial information that ultimately led to bin Laden’s death. The United States located al Qaeda’s leader by learning the identity of a trusted courier from the tough interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, and his successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi.

Armed with the courier’s nom de guerre, American intelligence agencies later found him thanks to his phone call to a contact already under electronic surveillance. Last August, the courier traveled to bin Laden’s compound, but it took another eight months before the CIA became certain that the al Qaeda leader was hiding inside.
Armed with the courier’s nom de guerre, American intelligence agencies later found him thanks to his phone call to a contact already under electronic surveillance. Last August, the courier traveled to bin Laden’s compound, but it took another eight months before the CIA became certain that the al Qaeda leader was hiding inside.

–John Yoo (Op-ed), “From Guantanamo to Abbottabad,” Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2011.

The apologists for the torture policy of the Bush administration raise a hard question for President Obama, but not the one they think:

Why have John Yoo and other architects of the Bush administration’s policy of torure not been prosecuted, in accordance with U.S. law and the international legal obligations of the United States under the Convention Against Torture?

See Mark Benjamin, “The torture debate is back, but what about the criminal probe?” TIME, May 4, 2011.

The Trenchant Observer, “The Clock is Ticking: U.S. Application of the Torture Convention,” February 20, 2010.

The Trenchant Observer, “Craig’s Departure, the Ban on Publication of Any Torture Photograph, and Reaffirmation of the Prohibition Against Torture,” November 25, 2009

The claims of the torture apologists have been rebutted by a number of current and past U.S. officials, though that is really beside the point here.

On the fundamental moral issues involved in the debate over the efficacy of torture, see The Trenchant Observer, “Consorting with the Devil? The Debate over the Efficacy of Torture,” October 1, 2009 (written April 24, 2009).

Meanwhile, there appear to be few moral doubts about the efficacy of torture among the leaders of Libya, Syria, and many other countries.

Are we OK with their use of torture? If not, what can we say to them to urge them to stop?

The Trenchant Observer

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About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

1 Comment on "Bin Laden and the Debate Over Torture–Revived"

  1. Bin Laden death rekindles torture debate ..WASHINGTON May 7 2011 AFP -Osama bin Ladens death has reignited debate over the George W. Bush administration officials and Republicans have jumped into the fray…The raid on bin-Ladens compound a week ago vindicates the Bush administration whose intelligence architecture marked the path to bin Ladens door former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion article…Yoo played a critical role in asserting executive authority over the use of harsh interrogation techniques under the Bush administration that are widely regarded as torture… Waterboarding produced a huge amount of intel information agreed Donald Rumsfeld on Fox News. Nobody with a nickels worth of intelligence goes off after torturing somebody runs off and acts on that information said Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights…Tracking down bin Laden at his secret lair from where the Al-Qaeda leader never ventured out and took extreme precautions to avoid detection required information from a mosaic of sources said Attorney General Eric Holder…With Republicans claiming the killing of bin Laden justifies the Bush administrations controversial anti-terror tactics which Obama has largely rejected outraging those eager to put to rest a debate that left a stain on the national conscience… Its disheartening to see conversation already turning to old old debates about interrogation said Deborah Pearlstein of Princeton University on the Opinio Juris blog regretting what she called a fruitless conversation. .. Put differently for every maybe some guy in Gitmo said something useful story theres a some guy in Gitmo said something false that led us to war in Iraq story. ..Matthew Alexander a former senior military interrogator who conducted or supervised over 1 300 interrogations in Iraq leading to the capture of numerous terror leaders rejected as any new debate on illegal torture… Torture in not moral because its inconsistent with our principles freedom liberty and justice.

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