WATERBOARDING and other harsh interrogation techniques were not a factor in tracking down Osama bin Laden, leading Republican Senator John McCain insisted last night.
McCain, who spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, also rejected the argument that any form of torture is critical to US success in the fight against terrorism.
In an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, the Arizona Republican said former attorney general Michael Mukasey and others who supported those kind of measures were wrong to claim that waterboarding al-Qaida’s No 3 leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, provided information that led to bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.
McCain spoke with an unrivalled record on the issue. He’s the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee who consistently challenged the Bush administration and vice president Dick Cheney on the use of torture and a man who endured brutal treatment during the Vietnam War.
He said he asked CIA director Leon Panetta for the facts, and that the hunt for bin Laden did not begin with fresh information for Mohammed. In fact, the name of bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, came from a detainee held in another country.
“Not only did the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed, it actually produced false and misleading information,” McCain said.
He called on Mukasey and others to correct their statements. Mukasey was president George W Bush’s last attorney general.
Meanwhile, the US commando raid that killed bin Laden was “not an assassination”, US attorney general Eric Holder said after the al-Qaida leader’s sons denounced the operation.
Holder told the BBC the raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan on May 2 was a “kill or capture mission” and that his surrender would have been accepted if offered, but that the safety of US Navy commandos was paramount.
“What happened to bin Laden was not an assassination,” Holder said.
“I think the action that we took against him can be seen as an act of national self-defence. You have to remember it is lawful to target an enemy commander,” he said.
Holder said there was no indication that bin Laden was going to surrender and it was believed he could be wearing a suicide vest.
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