"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.
"I'm not interested in playing word games with anybody, least of all with a certified war hero who has a superb public record," Mukasey said of McCain. "But it's possible to be a war hero and have an excellent public record and be mistaken about some things, all at the same time. "
At the same event John Rizzo, who served as the CIA's general counsel during the Bush administration, said the CIA was always sure that "couriers were the Rosetta stone" that would eventually lead to bin Laden. He said, however, that it is "unknowable" whether bin Laden would have ever been captured had the CIA not had its interrogation program in place.
"The purpose of the program was not to basically break detainees with these tactics so they'd blurt out the truth," Rizzo said. "The purpose of the program was to create a condition that would cause a detainee basically to give up hope and begin to be truthful in the answers."
Rizzo said that "personally" he doubted that "any valuable information" could come from the top captured al Qaeda figures if the interrogators were limited to the Army Field Manual.
Mukasey agreed. He said that without the CIA's program intelligence officers are at a disadvantage when it comes to interrogations.
"The short of it is, we don't have anything in place. We have the Army Field Manual that al Qaeda uses as a training manual," he said.
Elisa Massimino, of Human Rights First, told the AEI gathering that waterboarding amounts to torture and that is why the Obama administration banned it.
"Torture is counterproductive," she said. "I suppose torture works in a way a row boat to Europe works."
In the audience were top former government officials including Porter Goss, who served as head of the CIA under the Bush administration, and David Addington, former Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of ctaff.