Everything we know about Al-Qaeda may be untrue – if based on torture

The Washington Post, in an article published on Saturday, reported that “previously unpublicized details about the transformation, in 2005-2006, of the man known to U.S. officials as [Khalid Sheik Mohammed ] KSM  [was transformed] from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its ‘preeminent source’ on al-Qaeda.  This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques … enduring the CIA’s harshest interrogation methods and spending more than a year in the agency’s secret prisons” before the transformation.

But, what he provided in the first year of his detention (2003-2004) was untrue: ” ‘KSM, 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intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete’, according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA’s then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.   The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general’s report and other documents released this week indicate.   Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again … Mohammed, in statements to the International Committee of the Red Cross, said some of the information he provided was untrue.  ‘During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time’, he said … After his capture, Mohammed first told his captors what he calculated they already knew.  ‘KSM almost immediately following his capture in March 2003 elaborated on his plan to crash commercial airlines into Heathrow airport’, according to a document released by the CIA on Monday that summarizes the intelligence provided by Mohammed. The agency thinks he assumed that Ramzi Binalshibh, a Sept. 11 conspirator captured in September 2002, had already divulged the plan”.

So, what reason is there to think that what he told CIA and other personnel in 2005-2006 about Al-Qaeda is true?

Here is the reasoning given in the Washington Post story:  “One former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out said Mohammed, like several other detainees, seemed to have decided that it was okay to stop resisting after he had endured a certain amount of pressure. ‘Once the harsher techniques were used on [detainees], they could be viewed as having done their duty to Islam or their cause, and their religious principles would ask no more of them’, said the former official, who requested anonymity because the events are still classified.  ‘After that point, they became compliant. Obviously, there was also an interest in being able to later say, “I was tortured into cooperating” ‘.'”

Or, he was tortured into lying … and inventing and making up stories …

We previously discussed the reports that KSM and other alleged High Value Detainees implicated each other after being tortured, here and here.

The Washington Post report adds that “One former agency official recalled that Mohammed was once asked to write a summary of his knowledge about al-Qaeda’s efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The terrorist group had explored buying either an intact nuclear weapon or key components such as enriched uranium, although there is no evidence of significant progress on that front. ‘He wrote us an essay’ on al-Qaeda’s nuclear ambitions, the official said. ‘Not all of it was accurate, but it was quite extensive’. Mohammed was an unparalleled source in deciphering al-Qaeda’s strategic doctrine, key operatives and likely targets, the summary said, including describing in ‘considerable detail the traits and profiles’ that al-Qaeda sought in Western operatives and how the terrorist organization might conduct surveillance in the United States. Mohammed was moved to the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in September 2006, and his loquaciousness is now largely confined to occasional appearances before a military commission. Back in his 86-square-foot cell at the secret Camp 7 at Guantanamo, he spends most of his waking hours in prayer, according to a source familiar with his confinement who spoke on the condition of anonymity”.

The Washington Post report can be read in full here .