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NBC's Gregory Not Sure if Role of Enhanced Interrogation in bin Laden Killing is 'Objectively Knowable'

On NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, host David Gregory remained highly skeptical of the role enhanced interrogation tactics played in tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden: "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. And based on reporting this week in NBC News and outside, he never gave up the truth about the courier that led to bin Laden."

Gregory made the argument while speaking to a panel that included former CIA Director General Michael Hayden, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In response to Gregory's assertions, Chertoff referred to political partisans debating the issue: "...there will be people who will never be persuaded one way or the other about this." Gregory argued: "But it's a question of whether it's knowable....Is it objectively knowable?"

In response to that statement, Chertoff observed: "I'll tell you what is knowable, David. Go back 10 years....at that point in time, we had a national security apparatus that was stove-piped, that didn't have the ability to integrate information and to act on it in a timely way." He added that changes to that system began by President Bush "gave this president [Obama] the tools that he was able to use to kill bin Laden."

At the top of show, Gregory interviewed Obama's national security advisor, Tom Donilon, and pressed him on the impact of enhanced interrogations on finding bin Laden:

Charles Krauthammer wrote this in Friday's Washington Post, his column: 'Whence came the intelligence that led to Abbottabad? Many places, including from secret prisons in Romania and Poland; from terrorists seized and kidnapped, then subjected to interrogations, sometimes 'harsh' or 'enhanced'; from Gitmo detainees; from a huge bureaucratic apparatus of surveillance and eavesdropping. In other words, from a Global War on Terror infrastructure that critics, including Barack Obama himself, deplored as a tragic detour from American rectitude'....How do you respond?


As Donilon attempted to dodge the question, Gregory followed up: "Did harsh interrogation help in the effort to ultimately identify where he was?" Donilon replied: "No single piece of intelligence led to this." Gregory pointed out: "But both things could be true," and tried one more time: "Did harsh interrogations help in the hunt for bin Laden?" Donilon refused to give a straight answer.

From his exchange with Donilon, Gregory seemed to conclude that it was simply unknowable whether enhanced interrogations helped kill bin Laden. That was how he later framed the debate to Hayden: "...isn't it something of an open question as to whether that - you can tie that moment to this moment? In other words, harsh interrogation, waterboarding of suspected terrorists ultimately led us to bin Laden? Can we make that declarative statement?"

Speaking to Giuliani, Gregory further wondered: "...you heard a declarative statement from [former Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld, who said anybody who questions whether waterboarding worked is simply denying facts. How can he make that assertion with such, with such certainty?" In part, Giuliani noted: "I thought Mr. Donilon's failure to answer your question spoke very loudly about the fact that waterboarding, enhanced interrogation techniques, played a significant role in this."

Here is a transcript of both of the May 8 exchanges on the broadcast:

10:30AM ET TEASE:

DAVID GREGORY: Then, the ongoing debate. Does bin Laden's death and the intelligence gathered to find him vindicate the Bush administration's aggressive counterterror policies?

(...)

10:41AM ET SEGMENT:

GREGORY: Let me ask you about the ongoing debate about how we got to this moment.

TOM DONILON [NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR]: Sure.

GREGORY: The debate about how the intelligence was gathered originally that ultimately left - led the government to find bin Laden, to carry out this raid.

DONILON: Mm-hmm.

GREGORY: And whether there was a level of vindication for the aggressive counterterror policies of the Bush administration. Charles Krauthammer wrote this in Friday's Washington Post, his column: 'Whence came the intelligence that led to Abbottabad? Many places, including from secret prisons in Romania and Poland; from terrorists seized and kidnapped, then subjected to interrogations, sometimes 'harsh' or 'enhanced'; from Gitmo detainees; from a huge bureaucratic apparatus of surveillance and eavesdropping. In other words, from a Global War on Terror infrastructure that critics, including Barack Obama himself, deplored as a tragic detour from American rectitude.'

Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary of the Bush administration, said this on Fox this week.

DONILON: Mm-hmm.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I think that anyone who suggests that the enhanced techniques - let's be blunt, water boarding - did not produce an enormous amount of valuable intelligence just isn't facing the truth.

GREGORY: How do you respond?

DONILON: Yeah. Let me say a couple of things. First of all, I'm not going to comment on specific pieces of intelligence and the source, point one. Point two, I can tell you this, that the intelligence achievement here, the intelligence assessment that was brought to President Obama, beginning in the summer of last year, was the result of hundreds of pieces of intelligence over many years by the CIA and other institutions in the government, no single piece of intelligence led to this. David, that's not the way this works. Right? Over time, you have professionals combing through this and, and the, and the case goes cold and it heats up again, right, you know.

GREGORY: But there's a specific point.

DONILON: Yeah.

GREGORY: Did harsh interrogation help in the effort to ultimately identify where he was?

DONILON: No single piece of intelligence led to this. Now, we had intelligence-

GREGORY: But both things could be true.

DONILON: I know. Let me answer the question.

GREGORY: But can you address my question?

DONILON: Yes.

GREGORY: Did harsh interrogations-

DONILON: Yeah.

GREGORY: -help in the hunt for bin Laden?

DONILON: I'm not, I'm not going to comment on specific intelligence except, except to say the following, that intelligence was gathered from detainees, it was gathered through interrogation, it was gathered from other liaison services, it was gathered technically, it was gathered through human sources, right, over time.

And it was gathered, by the way - and this is a very important point I think for your viewers and for Americans generally to understand - this was an effort across two administrations. Indeed, many of the same professionals who worked for President Bush on this project work with us today. Right? So it is not a matter of, of partisanship.

And indeed, one of the messages, I think, that goes out from this, is this, that the United States, about its goals, has persistence and determination. That the United States does what it says it's going to do and, and very importantly, last Sunday night the world saw, it has the capabilities to do so.

(...)

10:51AM ET SEGMENT

GREGORY: Let me follow up with all of you on this other ongoing debate that I asked Mr. Donilon about, interrogations, the counterterror policies after 9/11, specifically waterboarding.

General Hayden, isn't it something of an open question as to whether that - you can tie that moment to this moment? In other words, harsh interrogation, waterboarding of suspected terrorists ultimately led us to bin Laden? Can we make that declarative statement?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN [FMR. CIA DIRECTOR]: I, I wouldn't, I wouldn't describe it that way. I'd describe it the way [CIA] Director Panetta has done in some public commentary, that one of the key threads that we began this from about four years ago came from information from CIA detainees. And all of those particular detainees did indeed have enhanced interrogation techniques used against them. So you, you can't deny that we got valuable information from these folks. Now, Director Panetta went on to say it's just an open question whether we, we may have gotten them from other means. But the fact of the matter is, we did it this way and this way worked.

GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani, but you heard a declarative statement from Secretary Rumsfeld who said anybody who questions whether waterboarding worked is simply denying facts. How can he make that assertion with such, with such certainty?

RUDY GIULIANI: Well, obviously, he can't make it with certainty unless the administration reveals all the data, which they're not.

GREGORY: Yeah.

GIULIANI: But I, I thought Mr. Donilon's failure to answer your question spoke very loudly about the fact that waterboarding, enhanced interrogation techniques, played a significant role in this. Maybe not the critical role, maybe the critical role, but certainly a significant role. And it just makes sense. I mean, these, these kinds of materials are not obtained easily, and this tremendous amount of material-

GREGORY: But it, it may make sense.

GIULIANI: -ought to have to come from enhanced techniques.

GREGORY: It, it may not make sense. I mean, isn't, isn't that the point, Secretary Chertoff, which is, look, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. And based on reporting this week in NBC News and outside, he never gave up the truth about the courier that led to bin Laden. So there is, there is still this debate that doesn't get settled through killing bin Laden. Would you agree with that?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF [FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY]: Well, as you, you know, there will be people who will never be persuaded one way or the other about this. And I'm not going to - I don't think I can add anything to it. My-

GREGORY: But it's a question of whether it's knowable.

CHERTOFF: Right.

GREGORY: Is it objectively knowable?

CHERTOFF: I'll tell you what is knowable, David. Go back 10 years. I was head of the criminal division on the day of 9/11, and at that point in time, we had a national security apparatus that was stove-piped, that didn't have the ability to integrate information and to act on it in a timely way. Both presidents deserve a lot of credit for maturing the apparatus over 10 years to the point that, as Tom Donilon said, the President could have confidence that this apparatus would work, taking the intelligence, operationalizing it, and moving it in real time. That - all the pieces of that are part of the puzzle. Some of them some people will like, some of them people won't like, but it's their totality that gave this president the tools that he was able to use to kill bin Laden.

- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.