Commentary: Torture did not lead U.S. to bin Laden's lair

One of the most insidious impacts of the 9/11 attacks has been a new acceptance for torture among some Americans.

In the past, torture wasn't just illegal, it was considered to be an ineffective way to gather information, and profoundly immoral. We prosecuted Japanese soldiers in World War II for using waterboarding (simulated drowning), sleep deprivation and freezing temperatures to torture American soldiers.

Now, far too many people – and their elected leaders – seem ready to not only condone, but celebrate, those forms of torture.

Barely a day after the president announced that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden, Bush administration officials and their supporters attempted to exploit this achievement by claiming that waterboarding in 2002 and 2003 had been a critical factor in tracking him down.

"Wonder what President Obama thinks of waterboarding now?" crowed Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in a Twitter post.

John Yoo, a Justice Department official from 2001-2003 who authored the infamous "torture memos," claimed in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that the Bush administration's interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs produced the "actionable intelligence" that led to bin Laden, "a vindication of the Bush administration's terrorism policies."

The reality, documented persuasively by the New York Times, is that harsh interrogation techniques played little or no role in identifying bin Laden's courier and exposing his hide-out. Often they produced misleading information, such as claims by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 – that courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti was of little significance.

Eight years later, intelligence by the CIA and other agencies led U.S. forces to bin Laden's lair, where al-Kuwaiti was among those who died in Monday's raid.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.