Last night on Fox News' Sean Hannity Show, former Bush Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld backtracked on a previous statement he made about the use of information gained from torture. Rumsfeld told Newsmax this week that "beneficial" information about Osama bin Laden had not been obtained through waterboarding or "harsh treatment," but he told Hannity the exact opposite last night:
RUMSFELD: I'm told there was some confusion today on some programs…suggesting that I indicated that no one who was waterboarded at Guantanamo provided any information on this. That's just not true. What I said was no one was waterboarded at Guantanamo by the US military…Three people were waterboarded by the CIA…and then later brought to Guantanamo. In fact, as you point out, the information that came from those individuals was critically important."
Rumsfeld also agreed with Hannity that "if he [Obama] had had his way, and Democrats had their way, we wouldn't have had this intelligence." Watch it:
Before the interview, Rumsfeld aide Keith Urbahn accused ThinkProgress of using his boss’s previous quote "cynically" and taking the statement "out of context." But Rumsfeld's original statement to Newsmax was quite clear, and the conservative outlet ran the interview under the headline, "Rumsfeld Exclusive: There Was No Waterboarding of Courier Source."
Rumsfeld's original position was more accurate, according to numerous sources who are familiar with the intelligence that led to Bin Laden. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor recently summed up a key flaw in the argument that waterboarding was integral to the mission, saying, "The bottom line is this: If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003."
Rumsfeld and others have pointed to the comments of CIA Director Leon Panetta on NBC Nightly News this week as proof that waterboarding was instrumental in the intelligence trail that led to Bin Laden. Panetta never actually connected the dots between finding Bin Laden and waterboarding. He simply said that some of the detainees who provided key pieces of intelligence had been waterboarded at some point — an obvious fact — without saying that it was the waterboarding that caused them to turn over the information.
The New York Times' definitive account of the intelligence trail that led to Bin Laden concluded, "harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden's trusted courier and exposing his hide-out."
In fact, two of the prisoners subjected to the harshest treatment — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times — repeatedly lied under torture about the critical piece of intel about the courier. Mohammed has been frequently invoked by conservatives in recent days as the paramount example that waterboarding works. Abu Faraj Al-Libbi, another Al Qaeda leader whose usefulness has been cited by conservatives, also misled interrogators about the courier.
The detainee who provided the most important actionable intelligence about the courier, Al Qaeda operative Hassan Ghul, was not waterboarded, and was described by one official as being "quite cooperative."
This conservative effort to reopen the torture debate appears to be little more than an attempt to attack President Obama at a moment of strength and distract from that fact that Bush failed to catch Bin Laden.