Some conservatives are arguing that Osama bin Laden's death justifies Bush-era harsh interrogation techniques, but after looking at the trail of evidence, the New York Times concludes that torture played “a small role at most” in finding bin Laden’s courier. The detainee who provided the most crucial information about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti (the nom de guerre the courier apparently used) wasn’t waterboarded. And though the CIA asked for permission to use harsh techniques on him, one official says he was “quite cooperative” and says any rough treatment would have been brief.
Meanwhile, two other detainees who were tortured—including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—misled interrogators about Kuwaiti; Mohammed said he was retired and called him unimportant. The CIA wound up deciding that these denials were evidence of Kuwaiti’s importance. “The bottom line is this: If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003,” said a spokesman for the National Security Council. “It took years of collection and analysis from many different sources to develop the case.”