Regular commenter Frank referred to this CNS report that waterboarding led to the break-up of a 9/11-style attack on the "the tallest building on the west coast", Library Tower (now the U.S. Bank building) in Los Angeles. The reports states:
The CIA source who confirmed the account is not named, and no further reference is made to a contemporary confirmation. Instead, confirmation seems to be taken from released Justice Department memos that are currently under fire for being little more than a papering-over of illegal acts.
CNS source-fudging aside, the piece is an echo of a Washington Post op-ed by former Bush speechwriter Marc Theissen that also referred to the just-released memos and makes an impressive case on behalf of "enhanced" interrogation, saying:
The problem is that the timelines don't match. According to this 2007 release from the Bush White House, the plot to attack "the tallest building on the west coast" was broken up in 2002, before KSM was even in custody:
In other words, they broke up a plot to attack a west coast building, and some time later KSM "stated" that the intended target had been the Library Tower. (Timothy Noah has an excellent accounting of the contradictions here.) That's not exactly a ticking time bomb, and it certainly isn't the kind of high-value intelligence that could be used to justify torture.
There's no way to know whether the account of the sequence of events in the 2005 memo was a misunderstanding of the timing or a deliberate misstatement. At the same time, there's really no way to tell whether the account released by the White House in 2007 is the truth or a mistake. But given the importance of this argument -- given that the only conceivable justification for torture is the ticking time bomb scenario the KSM story seems to indicate -- we really ought to more closely investigate this sequence of events to get at what really happened. Perhaps we can all agree that some kind of look at the underlying evidence -- a trial, a 9/11 Commission style investigation, something -- ought to be undertaken.
The object of the investigation should not be the CIA operatives who carried out the orders. I've said before that confronted with a real ticking time bomb, I'd do the torture myself and take my chances with a jury of my peers. The CIA operatives charged with guaranteeing Never Again, and who asked for and were granted guidance from the Department of Justice, shouldn't be subject to sanction.
It is, instead, the people who granted that guidance and sanction who need to be investigated. The disturbing aspect of this is that there appears to have been no ticking time bomb, and it looks as if maybe the Executive Branch ordered or allowed illegal mistreatment of captives as a matter of course, in an abandonment of more than 200 years of American law and tradition. That's what we need to investigate, because that's the real crime.
UPDATE: It appears also that torture wasn't used just to solve security problems. Apparently. Senior officials pressured interrogators to amp up the abuse to gain information to solve a political problem:
A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that (Vice President) Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.
"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.
"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."
That's the problem with torture: like everything else government does, it expands.