(WASHINGTON) -- Top current and former government officials may have finally answered the question of whether intelligence gained from the use of waterboarding played a role in the discovery of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts.
It could all boil down to a war of words.
The controversy began on May 12 when Sen. John McCain, a former POW who was tortured at the hands of Vietnamese captors, took to the Senate floor to criticize those who claimed that intelligence gleaned from enhanced interrogation techniques used against high value detainees such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was used to find bin Laden.
McCain specifically criticized comments made by Michael Mukasey, a U.S. attorney general under the Bush administration, who had claimed in an op-ed on May 6 that the trail to bin Laden "began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM)" made after he had been subject to waterboarding. Mukasey said that KSM had revealed "the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden."
Mukasey's op-ed infuriated McCain. In his speech, McCain said he had taken up the matter with CIA Director Leon Panetta, who had told him that KSM had not provided the name of the courier.
On Monday, as first reported by the Washington Post, excerpts from a letter from Panetta to McCain dated May 9 were released. In the letter, Panetta reiterates what he has said publicly -- that bin Laden was found after 10 years of intensive intelligence from "multiple streams" and "painstaking collection and analysis."
In the letter, which was verified by a spokesperson at the CIA, Panetta says: "We first learned about the facilitator/courier's nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002." He said that some detainees who had been subject to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false information about the courier.
The statement leaves open the possibility that both Mukasey and Panetta are correct. Panetta refers to the "full true name" of the courier, while Mukasey, in an appearance Monday at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, said KSM disclosed "the nickname" in the course of the questioning that took place after the enhanced interrogation techniques.
Mukasey said that while it wasn't the first time a detainee had mentioned the name, it only became significant "when it came out of [KSM'S] mouth." And he indicated he believes the controversy is more than just a war of words regarding the courier's nickname or his true name.
"I'm not accusing anybody of being misleading and I'm certainly not here to play word games," he said. "I know what I said to be true, and you can read into that [Panetta's] letter what you want to."
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