The possibility that U.S. spies located Osama bin Laden with help from detainees who'd been subjected to "enhanced interrogation" techniques seems certain to reopen the debate over practices that many have equated with torture, security experts said on Monday.
One of the key sources for initial information about an al Qaeda "courier" who led U.S. authorities to bin Laden's Pakistani hide-out was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a man US accused of masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, a former U.S. national security official said.
KSM, as he was known to U.S. officials, was subjected to "waterboarding" 183 times, the U.S. government has acknowledged.
But it was not until later, after waterboarding was suspended because it and other harsh techniques became heatedly debated, that Mohammed told interrogators about the existence of a courier particularly close to bin Laden, a fragmentary tip that ended in bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. special forces on Sunday.
And at the time the information surfaced, the CIA had already abandoned some of its most controversial interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, in which water is poured over the face of an interrogation subject to simulate drowning, current and former U.S. officials told Reuters.
But the possibility that detainees who at some point were subjected to physical coercion later gave up information leading to bin Laden's discovery is sparking discussion among intelligence experts as to whether he could have been found without them.
"Info in 2004"
"It will reignite a debate that hasn't gone away about the morality and ethicacy of certain techniques," said Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
"Waterboarding" and other physically-coercive interrogation techniques used on detained militants, including depriving them of sleep, making them pose in uncomfortable positions, and slamming them into walls, were authorized by President George W. Bush in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The tactics were used on detainees kidnapped by the CIA at secret prisons outside the United States.
In 2004, the CIA suspended these techniques. Subsequent revelations about agency practices led to charges the United States had engaged in torture.
But former U.S. officials told Reuters of a sequence of events that raises questions about whether the enhanced interrogation means played a significant role in bin Laden's capture.
A former U.S. counter-terrorism official who was briefed on detainee information about bin Laden and his entourage said, for instance, the CIA stopped using harsh interrogation methods on KSM after 2003.
But the first key intelligence reports identifying the al Qaeda courier reached U.S. counter-terrorism officials in 2004, according to a former U.S. national security official with direct personal knowledge.
The official said that for three years after the CIA stopped subjecting him to coercive measures, KSM continued to talk extensively. It was during this period, the official said, that he believes KSM gave up information about the courier.
A second former U.S. official said that while he did not remember which detainee gave up the key tip about the courier, he confirmed that the information came in in 2004, after the CIA had abandoned waterboarding but before it had completely stopped the use of physically stressful techniques.
This official, and two other current intelligence officials, said that in their view the main objective of the enhanced interrogation techniques was to break down resistance of detainees.
"You didn't use the techniques if they started talking," one of the officials said.
Obama Administration officials confirmed the sequence of events -- U.S. intelligence did not learn the identity of the courier until after the CIA interrogation program was terminated.
Administration officials also said it was not until August 2010 that U.S. authorities learned the location of the fortified mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where U.S. special forces troops killed bin Laden during a commando raid on Sunday.
Fierce fighting between UN peacekeepers and Ugandan rebels raged in the restive east of the Democratic Republic of Congo
The meeting comes after a Russian warplane was downed for violating Turkey’s airspace on Nov. 24
One of the terrorists who attacked the Bataclan concert hall in Paris last month had a French gun licence, and trained at the same location as the national police, reports suggest
'I want to be very clear: Turkey is a NATO ally. The U.S. supports Turkish rights to defend itself and its airspace and its territory,' US President says
Manuel Valls calls on tourists not to be afraid and come visit Paris
'We understand Turkey's actions are aimed at protecting its airspace,' Lithuanian president’s foreign policy adviser says
Latest incident, condemned by the EU's office in Kosovo, comes ahead of the first visit to Pristina by US Secretary of State John Kerry
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet agreed on Tuesday on plans to join the military campaign against ISIL in Syria, a government official said.
Two French citizens have been arrested as they attempt to join ISIL in Libya.
Offer to join is expected to come after a meeting of foreign ministers from the 28-nation alliance in Brussels
Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Knesset's joint Arab list, will travel to Washington to talk with civil rights leaders and will also be a guest of honor at event hosted by American Jewish billionaire S. Daniel Abraham.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed to expel Palestinian families of fighters and demolish their family home.
Prime minister ends weeks of speculation by announcing parliamentary vote on strikes against ISIL in Syria
Evidence also shows aircraft was warned multiple times before being shot down, State Dept. says
An 11-year lawsuit ends with new revelations about national security letters
The increase of food exports follows Russian sanctions in wake of shooting down of warplane