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What Made KSM Talk?

5:30 PM, Aug 26, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Newsweek's Mark Hosenball says the Inspector General's report and other recently-released documents pertaining to Bush-era interrogations of top al Qaeda operatives do not show that waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) "actually worked." Hosenball concedes that the detainees gave up a treasure trove of valuable intelligence, but the documents do not "convincingly demonstrate" that the EITs "produced this useful information."

This is likely to be the new conventional wisdom on the documents. It's wrong, so let's take it apart.

First, here are the four key paragraphs from the Inspector General's Report that deal specifically with waterboarding - the harshest of the enhanced interrogation techniques - and its effect on intelligence production. They are reproduced below, with redactions noted, because you have to read them together to understand as much of the story as possible. The paragraphs can all be found on pages 90 and 91 of the Inspector General's Report.

The waterboard has been used on three detainees: Abu Zubaydah, Al-Nashiri, and Khalid Shaykh Muhammad. [REDACTED]…with the belief that each of the three detainees possessed perishable information about imminent threats against the United States.

Prior to the use of EITs, Abu Zubaydah provided information for [REDACTED] intelligence reports. Interrogators applied the waterboard to Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times during August 2002. During the period between the end of the use of the waterboard and 30 April 2003, he provided information for approximately [REDACTED] additional reports. It is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason for Abu Zubaydah's increased production, or if another factor, such as the length of detention, was the catalyst. Since the use of the waterboard, however, Abu Zubaydah has appeared to be cooperative, [REDACTED]

With respect to Al-Nashiri, [REDACTED] reported two waterboard sessions in November 2002, after which the psychologist/interrogators determined that Al-Nashiri was compliant. However, after being moved [REDACTED] Al-Nashiri was thought to be withholding information. Al-Nashiri subsequently received additional EITs, [REDACTED] but not the waterboard. The Agency then determined Al-Nashiri to be "compliant." Because of the litany of techniques used by different interrogators over a relatively short period of time, it is difficult to identify exactly why Al-Nashiri became more willing to provide information. However, following the use of EITs, he provided information about his most current operational planning and [REDACTED] as opposed to the historical information he provided before the use of EITs.

On the other hand, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete. As a means of less active resistance, at the beginning of their interrogation, detainees routinely provide information that they know is already known. Khalid Shakyh Muhammad received 183 applications of the waterboard in March 2003 [REDACTED]

Admittedly, the redactions make it difficult to get the whole story. But here is what we can tell.

The IG says he couldn't tell whether it was the waterboard or some other factor that led to the increase in intelligence production coming out of Abu Zubaydah's interrogations. It seems highly unlikely on its face that Zubaydah's time in custody alone (the only other possible explanation specifically offered by the IG) could have led to this increase in output. The waterboarding began in August 2002, and the increase in Zubaydah's intelligence reporting that is cited ended in April of 2003. That's a period of just nine months, which is hardly a prolonged period of time for a master terrorist such as a Zubaydah.

Moreover, even the IG concedes that since Zubaydah was waterboarded he "has appeared to be cooperative."

Next came Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing. Nashiri was waterboarded twice before the Agency determined he had become compliant. Nashiri was then apparently moved and stopped giving up intelligence, so the Agency employed a variety of EITs, but not the waterboard, in a short period of time. After the EITs were employed, Nashiri became compliant once again. Nashiri now "provided information about his most current operational planning…as opposed to the historical information he provided before the use of EITs."