First, its claim that the CIA’s interrogation program was ineffective in producing intelligence that helped us disrupt, capture, or kill terrorists is just not accurate. The program was invaluable in three critical ways:
- It led to the capture of senior al Qaeda operatives, thereby removing them from the battlefield.
- It led to the disruption of terrorist plots and prevented mass casualty attacks, saving American and Allied lives.
- It added enormously to what we knew about al Qaeda as an organization and therefore informed our approaches on how best to attack, thwart and degrade it.
A powerful example of the interrogation program’s importance is the information obtained from Abu Zubaydah, a senior al Qaeda operative, and from Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, known as KSM, the 9/11 mastermind. We are convinced that both would not have talked absent the interrogation program.
Information provided by Zubaydah through the interrogation program led to the capture in 2002 of KSM associate and post-9/11 plotter Ramzi Bin al-Shibh. Information from both Zubaydah and al-Shibh led us to KSM. KSM then led us to Riduan Isamuddin, aka Hambali, East Asia’s chief al Qaeda ally and the perpetrator of the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia—in which more than 200 people perished.
The removal of these senior al Qaeda operatives saved thousands of lives because it ended their plotting. KSM, alone, was working on multiple plots when he was captured.
Here’s an example of how the interrogation program actually worked to disrupt terrorist plotting. Without revealing to KSM that Hambali had been captured, we asked him who might take over in the event that Hambali was no longer around. KSM pointed to Hambali’s brother Rusman Gunawan. We then found Gunawan, and information from him resulted in the takedown of a 17-member Southeast Asian cell that Gunawan had recruited for a “second wave,” 9/11-style attack on the U.S. West Coast, in all likelihood using aircraft again to attack buildings. Had that attack occurred, the nightmare of 9/11 would have been repeated.
Once they had become compliant due to the interrogation program, both Abu Zubaydah and KSM turned out to be invaluable sources on the al Qaeda organization. We went back to them multiple times to gain insight into the group. More than one quarter of the nearly 1,700 footnotes in the highly regarded 9/11 Commission Report in 2004 and a significant share of the intelligence in the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on al Qaeda came from detainees in the program, in particular Zubaydah and KSM.
The majority on the Senate Intelligence Committee further claims that the takedown of bin Laden was not facilitated by information from the interrogation program. They are wrong. There is no doubt that information provided by the totality of detainees in CIA custody, those who were subjected to interrogation and those who were not, was essential to bringing bin Laden to justice. The CIA never would have focused on the individual who turned out to be bin Laden’s personal courier without the detention and interrogation program.