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Seeking Clarity From Pakistan

May 8, 2011

It’s an uneasy new stage of an awkward relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan, but both sides are continuing to talk up the importance of working together. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, making the rounds on the Sunday talk shows, said there is no evidence that Pakistan knew terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was living near a major military academy but wanted to make sure the U.S. has access to bin Laden’s wives. The country’s ambassador to the U.S. pledged that where the bin Laden breakdown is concerned, “We’ll get to the bottom of it.” And Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said he doesn’t see plans to cut off funding to Pakistan getting any traction.

Cheney: Don’t Stop Enhanced Interrogation

11:45 a.m. Former Vice President Dick Cheney echoed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in lamenting President Obama’s rejection of “enhanced interrogation.” Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Cheney said, “I still am concerned about the fact I think a lot of the techniques that we have used to keep the country safe for more than seven years are no longer available, that they've been sort of taken off the table.”

 

Cheney also counseled against abruptly pulling troops out of Afghanistan because bin Laden has been eliminated, saying that would repeat mistakes made in the 1980s when U.S. policymakers stopped paying attention to that country after Soviet troops pulled out.

“Everybody left Afghanistan and... ultimately the Taliban took control, Osama bin Laden showed up, it became a safe harbor, they trained twenty-some-thousand terrorists to launch an attack against the United States,” he said. “If we turn and walk away from Pakistan, or Afghanistan, or that part of the world, generally, I'm fearful that we're headed for trouble down the road.”

George E. Condon Jr.

What Role Did Enhanced Interrogation Play?

11:26 a.m. On NBC’s Meet the Press, host David Gregory asked National Security Adviser Tom Donilon what role enhanced interrogation techniques played in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Donilon was circumspect: “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.” Gregory asked two follow-up questions; Donilon parried both.

Gregory revisited the subject with other guests. Asked if we can say enhanced interrogation led the U.S. to bin Laden, Michael Hayden, President George W. Bush’s last CIA director, alluded to comments made this week by successor Leon Panetta: “I wouldn’t describe it that way. I’d describe it the way Director Panetta has done in some public commentaries, 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.... The fact of the matter is, we did it this way, and this way worked.”

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani added, “I thought Mr. Donilon’s failure to answer your question spoke very loudly to the fact that waterboarding and enhanced interrogation played a significant role in this. Maybe not the critical role, but certainly a significant role.”

Michael Chertoff, who led the Homeland Security Department for most of Bush’s second term, used the question to praise the evolution of U.S. intelligence throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, but he noted, “People will never be persuaded one way or the other about this.”

Tom Madigan

Rumsfeld: Less Talk About Recovered Assets, Please

11:15 a.m. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, praised President Obama’s decision to launch the military operation. But he tweaked the White House for having to change some of its initial comments about how the operation occurred. And he was mildly critical of the White House for talking about the cache of documents seized in the raid.

“I would have preferred a lot less discussion out of the White House about intelligence, personally,” he said, adding, “My guess is that people in the Pentagon feel that way.”

He said, “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 officials at 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 risk to our people.”

He also cast the killing of bin Laden as validation of the “enhanced interrogation” tactics that he championed while at the Pentagon. He noted remarks by CIA Director Leon Panetta that information gathered from such questioning played at least a small role in helping to find bin Laden. “So,” said Rumsfeld, “I think it is clear that those techniques that the CIA used worked.”

George E. Condon Jr.

Pakistani Ambassador: ‘We’ll Get to the Bottom of It’

10:49 a.m. Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, promised to share intelligence with the United States and pledged a full investigation of his country’s role in harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. But he denied that anyone in the government knew he was in their midst.

“If any member of the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military, or the Pakistani intelligence service knew where Osama bin Laden was, we would have taken action,” he said. But he did not deny that there was an intelligence failure, though he put some of the blame on U.S. priorities in the region.

“The United States spent much more money in Iraq than it did in Afghanistan. Then it spent much more money in Afghanistan than it did in Pakistan. So were there cracks through which things fell through? Absolutely, and we’ll investigate that. We’ll get to the bottom of it.”

He promised that if the investigation finds Pakistani officials culpable, “heads will roll.” He said if incompetence is to blame, they will admit that. And, he added, “if, God forbid, somebody’s complicity is discovered, there will be zero tolerance.”

Asked what Pakistan is learning from the people taken from bin Laden’s compound, he talked of how they led their daily lives while in hiding. “We understand that one of the wives never left the floor of Osama bin Laden because they were paranoid about physical movement. They didn’t go to windows. They didn’t have any fresh air, so to speak. All these people are being interrogated.”

George E. Condon Jr.

Lugar Doesn’t See Cuts in Aid to Pakistan

10:23 a.m. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., doesn’t see the U.S. cutting off funding to Pakistan, despite rumblings in Congress about withholding aid and widespread questions about what the Pakistani government knew of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts over the past few years.

“No, I don’t see that at all,” said Lugar, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on CNN’s State of the Union. “As a matter of fact, Pakistan is a critical factor in the war against terror” because of the nation’s al-Qaida and Taliban presence and because Pakistan is a nuclear state. As for the broader relationship, while Pakistan is critical to the U.S., “we are critical to them... because their focus is India and will continue to be, unfortunately, for a long period of time.”

Lugar also quibbled with Donilon’s assertion earlier in the program that there is no evidence that Pakistani leadership had any knowledge that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, near a major military academy.

“It appears to me very logical that if Osama bin Laden was in that home for six years in time, near a group of people there that were connected with the military, then a lot of people in Pakistan knew about his whereabouts,” Lugar said. “Now, the problem is that the divisions in the Pakistani government between the ISI—the intelligence people—the military, the civilians, are very, very severe. It’s not really clear how many persons in each of these categories were informed... [but] when something like this occurs, the divisions then within that government become more acute.”

Tom Madigan

Donilon Defends Pakistan But Says Questions Remain

10:23 a.m. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon strongly defended continued U.S. ties with Pakistan on Sunday, contending that the discovery that Osama bin Laden had been living in the country for six years should not sidetrack what he termed a critical partnership in the war against terror.

With many in Congress calling for Islamabad to be cut off from American aid, Donilon said on CNN’s State of the Union that the upcoming debate to be conducted “in a calm and cool way” that recognizes Pakistan’s important contributions. But he also held up as an important test whether Pakistan grants the United States full access to bin Laden’s wives, who were in the terrorist leader’s compound, and to intelligence material left there.

He also urged critics not to jump to the conclusion that Pakistan’s leaders were complicit in hiding bin Laden. “I've not seen any evidence at least to date that the political, military, or intelligence leadership of Pakistan knew about Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, Pakistan,” he said, adding, “I've not seen any evidence to indicate that they had foreknowledge of this.”

But Donilon said those leaders must answer for the fact “that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad, Pakistan—35 miles from Islamabad—in a town that was essentially seen as a military town.... That needs to be investigated.”

He said the Pakistanis are dealing now with “a very big set of questions in their country about what happened and how this came about. The Pakistanis need to investigate that. We need to work with them to investigate what's happened, and how Osama bin Laden came to this place as his home for the last six years.”

Donilon said it is “very important” that Pakistan grant U.S. officials access “both to the people, including three wives who they now have in custody from the compound, as well as additional materials that they took from the compound.”

He praised Pakistan for its cooperation, saying, “The fact also is that more terrorists and extremists have been captured or killed in Pakistan soil than any other place in the world.”

Donilon also stressed the importance of the materials that were taken during the military operation. “It turns out,” he said, “that this is the largest cache of information gotten from a senior terrorist, gotten from any terrorist in one operation.” He described it as “about the size of a small college library” and said a multiagency task force has been formed to go through it. The questions to be answered, he said, include: “Are there imminent threats? What can we use in this intelligence to disrupt plotting? How can we use the intelligence to gain tactical and strategic advantage over al-Qaida, and others?”

He also defended the killing of bin Laden, whether or not he was armed at the time. “They had to breach several walls and doors to get to where Osama bin Laden was. At no point in the course of this operation did Osama bin Laden indicate that he was prepared to surrender.  This is an organization known obviously for suicide bombing, IEDs, booby-trapping buildings.  And I think our forces, with no signal from him that he was prepared to surrender, acted completely appropriately.  And I don't think anybody is going to second-guess their judgment.”

On ABC’s This Week, Donilon said Pakistan has been “an essential partner of ours in the war against al-Qaida.”

George E. Condon Jr.

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