Rumsfeld: Mistake to end enhanced interrogation

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on 'Face the Nation, May 8, 2011.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Sunday he thought the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on terror suspects likely produced "a major fraction" of U.S. knowledge on al Qaeda - and that the cessation of those tactics by U.S. forces "may be a mistake."

Rumsfeld, in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation," argued that some former CIA directors have contended that people who were subjected to waterboarding - a harsh interrogation technique that many consider torture and illegal - during CIA interrogations had yielded invaluable information and that, as such, suspending the use of such techniques might be unwise.

"Three CIA Directors - George Tenet, Porter Goss and General Hayden - have all said that the take from those three people that were waterboarded constituted a major fraction of all our knowledge about al Qaeda," Rumsfeld told CBS' Bob Schieffer. "The fourth CIA Director, Leon Panetta, has said very recently on television that some of that information was part of a patchwork or mosaic that led to the attack on Osama bin Laden."

In the wake of the death of bin Laden, the debate over so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that wer eemployed by the Bush administration on detainees has once again risen to the forefront of political discourse, particularly in light of the fact that two key terror detainees - Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi - may have revealed important information about the identity of a trusted bin Laden courier after having been subjected to such tactics.

"Information provided by KSM and Abu Faraj al-Libi about Bin Laden's courier was the lead information that eventually led to the location of [bin Laden's] compound and the operation that led to his death," said Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's counterterrorism center, in a recent interview with Time magazine.

But many argue that those techniques did not actually lead to any crucial piece of information - and that it was standard interrogation tactics, in fact, which led to the revelation about the courier.

"There is no way that information obtained by [enhanced interrogation techniques] was the decisive intelligence that led us directly to bin Laden," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told Time. "It took years of collection and analysis from many different sources to develop the case that enabled us to identify this compound, and reach a judgment that bin Laden was likely to be living there."

An AP report on the issue, which cited unnamed former officials, concluded that "[Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] did not discuss al-Kuwaiti while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding ... He acknowledged knowing him many months later under standard interrogation."

Rumsfeld, however, told Schieffer, "I think that it's clear that those techniques that the CIA used worked. And to have taken them away and ruled them out I think may be a mistake."

The former Defense Secretary, who served under former President George W. Bush, also condemned the criticism and questioning that CIA agents have faced in light of their use of waterboarding and other harsh techniques.

"I think that the Department of Justice investigation into the CIA operatives who were involved with enhanced interrogation techniques is a most unfortunate thing," Rumsfeld said. "These people were operating at the direction of the president. They were doing things that had been approved by the Department of Justice and it sends a chill throughout the government - in terms of not just the CIA people but also the military people - that they're going to have to get lawyered up if they do something.

"Imagine if a year from now, or two years from now, there's a new president in and he decides to have investigations on the decision that President Obama had to attack OBL and have him shot," Rumsfeld added, noting that he thinks those who carried out the operation "did the right thing" and that questions about their actions should be "set aside."

While Rumsfeld praised the coordination of the Sunday night raid that resulted in the death of bin Laden - calling it "absolutely perfection" - he was not without criticism for the Obama administration, particularly with respect to news, information and leaks about the raid.

"Looking at it from afar, it seems to me that most of the information about the intelligence has come out of the White House by people who later have had to change their mind because of the fog of war, and not out of the Pentagon," he said. "Of course, the people in the Pentagon worry about the lives of the men and women who serve - and the more information that goes out about intelligence, the greater the risks to our people and the less likelihood we're going to be able to capture and/or kill some of the people who would result from the intelligence-take there.

"So I would have preferred a lot less discussion out of the White House about intelligence, personally."

On the matter of last Sunday's raid on the Abbottabad compound, Sen. John Kerry also today called for an end to second-guessing the Seals' decision to shoot bin Laden.

"They had no idea whether Osama bin Laden was lunging for a button that would blow up the entire building," he told Schieffer on "Face the Nation." "There were weapons in the room. He was reaching for them. What we do know is he was not surrendering. It was the dead of night.

"That is as tense and as hairy an operation as you can have," Kerry said. "I think those SEALs did exactly what they should have done."

"We need to shut up and move on about, you know, the realities of what happened in that building," he added.