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Truthdig Radio: Debunking the bin Laden Torture Myth (Update: Transcript)

Posted on May 4, 2011
Photo illustration from an image by Colin Grey

(Page 2)

Josh Scheer: And that seems like that, you know, the right used that as justification. Well this obviously, as you just mentioned—seven years—obviously, it was not a ticking time bomb, right? I mean…

Mark Danner: [Laughs] That’s a very, very long ticking time bomb, if indeed you want to make that argument. No; it certainly, it certainly wasn’t. And you know, the fact is that the idea that—I mean, if you make an argument and say, you know what, under harsh interrogation we got information—that’s a ridiculous argument. I mean, these people were under CIA custody for years. For seven or eight years. And the idea that they, the CIA would get no information from them during that amount of time, and only their getting no information would prove that torture doesn’t work, is a kind of ridiculous argument. Of course they got information. The question is, did they get information that couldn’t have been gotten through different means ... as President Obama has put the matter very clearly in the past? And that is the question, and I have seen—I have never seen any evidence of such information that couldn’t have been obtained not only from other means, but more efficiently. So again, we haven’t—the one thing we can say, I think, about the last couple days of discussion of this issue is that it’s been in the realm of politics; it hasn’t advanced the issue in any way in the realm of information, that I can see.

Robert Scheer: You know what’s—this is Bob again—what’s mind-boggling to my mind about this is if you’re a fugitive running a huge organization, you don’t travel with your wives, and all these children, and all these assistants. And clearly, from what we know about this, there was some kind—and you don’t take, hide out in the West Point of Pakistan, you don’t hide out in one of the centers of Pakistani military power—unless you have the cooperation of Pakistan. And it seems to me where intelligence clearly broke down was not a failure to torture people, unless it were Pakistani leaders that we should have been torturing. But how in the world could we be so ignorant about what’s going on in Pakistan, a country that we have helped arm; that we supply sophisticated military equipment to; and not know that this guy that we’re pursuing all this time is clearly being protected there?

Mark Danner: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. It seems—one thing that seems absolutely clear is that given where he was found, given the construction that was necessary to put this place together, given its location not only a mile or so from the so-called Pakistani West Point, but in a garrison town that is highly surveyed—you know, it is completely impossible that some Pakistanis, some members of officialdom, didn’t know his location and weren’t protecting him. I think it’s just out of the question. Of course, the more interesting question then becomes, well, who did? Who knew where he was? At what level? And what are the details of that? And I imagine that—one would like to think that people in the U.S. government are trying to figure that out right now. The fact is, though, that the relationship between the highest levels of the government are such that you see Hillary Clinton and others basically scuttling around, doing their best to prevent the asking and certainly the answering of the question, questions like the one you just asked. The mode seems to be damage control. You know, we don’t want anything to affect the relationship. But the question is, at what point is the relationship, in a sense, counterproductive? He clearly was being sheltered by Pakistani officialdom, or the Pakistani military, and what is the consequence of that, you know? I mean, what exactly are we getting out of this relationship if the absolute highest priority of the United States is contradicted by Pakistani policy, and they’re giving shelter to Osama bin Laden? It’s kind of an extraordinary thing. But the U.S. government seems to be in the mode of simply wanting to limit the damage from that obvious reality. And you’re right, I take your point—if someone was going to be tortured, it probably should have been Pakistani officials.

Josh Scheer: Mark—well, I just wanted to let the KPFK audience know we’re talking to Mark Danner, torture expert, and you can see some more of his work at And now, back to Bob.

Robert Scheer: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. Bin Laden was not armed at the moment he was killed, and then he disappeared. And there’s an interesting piece on the BBC site today, suggesting that one reason for that is you really didn’t want this guy to have a trial, because it might involve revisiting the U.S. relation with this mujahedeen movement back in the ’80s. And I’ve long suspected it’s why we don’t want Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to have any kind of public trial, because these people might raise some of these issues of when they were considered the good guys; they were on our side. And do you feel there’s anything manipulative about this? I mean, there’s something, you know…first they said he was armed, and then they said he was not armed but he was killed, and then his body was quickly disposed of. And do you think there’s a part of this relationship—the 9/11 commission was never really able to explore how did these two guys get together—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who seemed to have really put the whole thing together; bin Laden seemed to be more of a banker. And, but we haven’t really been interested in exploring the origin of this movement, and how it worked; rather, we want to use it as a sort of very simple, sloganeering enemy and not really comprehend it.

Mark Danner: Mm-hmm. It would not be—surprise me if there weren’t a number of bits of dirty laundry that various parts of the U.S. national security bureaucracy would be uncomfortable exposing, in any trial of either of those two gentlemen. I’m not sure that is the key reason, though, for a policy that was clearly to kill him. You know, even in the aftermath of the announcement, the original announcement, you had John Brennan at the White House saying that they were, indeed wanted to capture him, but they were not able to because he resisted. And Leon Panetta said, frankly, that the policy was to kill him. He apparently didn’t get the memo. You know, I can think of a number of reasons, beyond the one you cite, which is—there could be various embarrassments coming to the fore; and simply beyond that, a trial, the whole notion of a trial, what to do with him, where to put him, how to interrogate him, what—you know, do you bring him to Guantanamo, I mean, the worldwide sort of consequences of doing that—but if you don’t bring him to Guantanamo, where do you bring him? I mean, it brings up, the whole notion of a trial would bring up enormous controversy around all these questions that still very much divide the country and also divide the U.S. from the rest of the world. And these issues, you know, the Obama administration has succeeded—mostly by conceding to many Bush positions—they’ve succeeded in calming the waters a bit. And I think that the notion of a captured Osama bin Laden brought up just too many complications. I mean, the question of dirty laundry which you bring up is probably part of it, but I don’t know that it would—that it was dominant. I think that it was just a lot more, it was a lot simpler to kill him, and dump him in the, dump him in the sea.

Robert Scheer: Well, you’ve done, I think—and I will use the word advisedly—brilliant writing on this subject. You’ve sort of played the role of Hannah Arendt in trying to understand the deeper issues. And what I think is so confusing here is, you know, we did have the Nuremberg Trials. And we had trials of people who didn’t kill in the thousands, but in the millions. And yet—and there were certainly arguments at that time that you couldn’t have trials, and you were giving them too much credit, and you were allowing them a forum, et cetera, et cetera. But the reality is that the world learned a great deal from the Nuremberg Trials. Certain standards were set; we had to grapple with the question of how do people come to behave this way, where do these monsters come from, what makes them that way. And that’s really what I’m getting at—not so much the dirty laundry, but who indeed are these people—if for no other reason than how to effectively combat them. And so I know you’ve been in a lot of debates on this subject; I don’t know if you’ve ever debated John Yoo. But…

Mark Danner: I have.


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