“I make up stories,” Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told federal officials, in broken English, sometime over the past three years he was at the military prison in Guantánamo Bay. In files recently unearthed through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the terrorist said that he made up stories and information, even regarding the location of Osama bin Laden, so that the use of enhanced interrogation on him would stop. (Sheikh Mohammed is said to have been waterboarded over 180 times.) “Where is [bin Laden]? I don’t know. Then, he torture me,” he explained, referring to an interrogator, probably from the CIA. “Then I said, ‘Yes, he is in this area.’”
This new development highlights CIA director Leon Panetta’s goal of replacing the U.S.’s abusive interrogation program (much of which was ended by a ban from President Obama) with a non-coercive, non-legally questionable alternative — staffed by the best and brightest from the FBI, CIA, and the military. Speaking to The New Yorker in this week’s issue, Panetta said: “What I’m pushing for is to establish a facility where we develop a team of interrogators trained in the latest techniques … There just aren’t that many people who have the interrogation abilities we’re going to need.”
In that same New Yorker article, Panetta became the first administration official to voice a thought that more than one are surely thinking: that former vice-president Dick Cheney, who has been extremely vocal in his condemnation of the Obama administration’s national-security policy, might actually want, in some way or another, another terrorist attack on America. Such a disaster would prove his contention that the new president has made the country “less safe.” “I think [Cheney] smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue,” Panetta told reporter Jane Mayer. “It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”
Cheney is a staunch defender of enhanced interrogation, and has long claimed that classified information discovered through the method backs up his assertion that it is a necessary measure. Upon hearing Panetta’s comment, he fired back: “I hope my old friend Leon was misquoted. The important thing is whether or not the Obama Administration will continue the policies that have kept us safe for the last 8 years.” Revelations like the one regarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s purported lying under duress lend strength to the Obama administration’s argument that information derived through enhanced interrogation is often not useful, or even flat wrong.
Of course, when Cheney inevitably makes the TV rounds to address this news, he’ll probably make the point that a man like Mohammed spent years trying to kill thousands of Americans, so he’s not above lying to try and confuse them about whether he was telling the truth under duress. Not to mention the fact that using anything a known enemy says about America and its tactics is usually never a winning argument. (See: Fox News crowing that Osama bin Laden’s recent condemnation of Obama should be heeded at face value.) Additionally, it’s not quite an argument to say that you can trust what Mohammed says while he is not under interrogation, but you can’t trust what he says when he is. Of course, the flip side of that argument applies to Cheney and enhanced-interrogation supporters.
Basically, what we’re left with is another piece of information that both sides won’t quite be able to use to suit their own agendas, but that the former vice-president will nonetheless employ to continue earning publicity for himself and his upcoming book.