Writing for The Nation, Peter Weiss comments on the new debate about whether the role of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (better, and more accurately known as torture) played any role in the assassination of Osama bin Laden:
Many seem to agree that it (Zero Dark Thirty) is a brilliant piece of filmmaking. But beyond that, the torture scenes shown in grisly detail at the beginning of the film have led to sharply divided opinions. Was the information about bin Laden’s whereabouts obtained through torture? If not, as Leon Panetta affirmed when he was head of the CIA and as Senator Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, insisted in a letter of protest to Sony Pictures, why did the filmmakers go out of their way to portray the contrary? What did Katherine Bigelow, the film’s director, have in mind when she said she didn’t have an agenda and wasn’t judging? How can one not judge torture—what is there to be neutral about?
After more or less eliminating torture at the beginning of President Obama’s first term, though, not incidentally shirking the duty to hold the torturers and those who authorized and encouraged torture accountable, we are now back to a grand debate over whether torture ‘works.’ At PO Box 1142, where we obtained a great deal of information useful for the war effort from German prisoners, many of whom were Nazi sympathizers, even members of the Nazi party, this question never came up. It was not part of the culture. That torture was not to be used was a self-evident proposition. There were, of course, psychological techniques that interrogators used to extract information. They included the establishment of human relationships between interviewer and interviewee, which was no easy matter when one was a Jew and the other a German, but personal feelings had to be suppressed for the sake of obtaining results. To the best of my knowledge, no one ever laid a hand on any of the German detainees.
The emphasis in the first quoted paragraph is mine, because torture played no role whatsoever in extracting the information that led to the assassination of bin Laden:
Filling in the Gaps
Years before the Sept. 11 attacks transformed Bin Laden into the world’s most feared terrorist, the C.I.A. had begun compiling a detailed dossier about the major players inside his global terror network.
It wasn’t until after 2002, when the agency began rounding up Qaeda operatives — and subjecting them to hours of brutal interrogation sessions in secret overseas prisons — that they finally began filling in the gaps about the foot soldiers, couriers and money men Bin Laden relied on.
Prisoners in American custody told stories of a trusted courier. When the Americans ran the man’s pseudonym past two top-level detainees — the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; and Al Qaeda’s operational chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi — the men claimed never to have heard his name. That raised suspicions among interrogators that the two detainees were lying and that the courier probably was an important figure.
As the hunt for Bin Laden continued, the spy agency was being buffeted on other fronts: the botched intelligence assessments about weapons of mass destruction leading up to the Iraq War, and the intense criticism for using waterboarding and other extreme interrogation methods that critics said amounted to torture.
Once again, the emphasis is mine. Read the whole Times article for the complete story.