Osama Bin Laden Death Reignites Battle Over Waterboarding, 'Enhanced Interrogation'

Bush administration claims "vindication" amid renewed interrogation debate.

May 3, 2011 -- The death of Osama bin Laden has reignited debate about interrogation techniques and whether the framework set up during the Bush administration to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists contributed to the eventual capture of the al Qaeda leader.

In the hours after bin Laden's death Sunday, senior Obama administration officials said detainees had provided the nom de guerre of the courier who eventually lead intelligence officers to the compound housing bin Laden. Officials said the courier, who was killed during Sunday's raid, was identified by detainees as a protege of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- considered the mastermind of 9/11 -- and that he might be "living with and protecting" bin Laden.

Read more about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The senior administration officials provided no information on who conducted the interviews and where they took place. But the comments sparked a debate about whether the information might have been the result of controversial, harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding used by intelligence officials against high-value detainees in secret overseas prisons run by the CIA in the years after 9/11.

President Bush confirmed the existence of the prisons in September of 2006, saying that the program had received strict oversight by the CIA's inspector general. But human rights groups said some of the techniques officials had used amounted to torture.

Upon taking office, President Obama signed an executive order barring the use of interrogation techniques not already authorized in the military's U.S. Army Field Manual.

At a hearing today before the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder was asked if the intelligence that lead to the operation was derived from any enhanced interrogation techniques. "There was a mosaic of sources," he said.

Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., asked the attorney general whether the public could rest assured that the intelligence did not involve enhanced techniques.

"I do not know," Holder testified.

In an interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl Monday, former Vice President Dick Cheney was asked about reports that the information might have come directly from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was held by the CIA and later transferred to Guantanamo Bay Cuba. The Bush administration has acknowledged that Mohammed had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques while in CIA custody.

Cheney, who has in the past defended the use of the interrogations such as waterboarding, said, "Well, it's an enhanced interrogation program that we put in place back in our first term. And I don't know the details. All I know is what I've seen in the newspaper at this point, but it wouldn't be surprising if in fact that program produced results that ultimately contributed to the success of this venture."

Cheney went on to say that it is important to look at the operation as a "continuum."

"I mean it's not just on one day you get up, bang, and you got Osama bin Laden," he said. "It's the kind of thing where an awful lot of people over a long period of time, thousands have worked this case and worked these issues and followed up on the leads and captured bad guys and interrogated them and so forth."

But Cheney's daughter, Liz Cheney, who sits on the board of an organization called Keep America Safe, went a step further.

Bush Administration Claims 'Vindication'

"We are also grateful to the men and women of America's intelligence services, who through their interrogation of high-value detainees, developed the information that apparently led us to bin Laden," she said in a statement on the group's website.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who has been a fierce critic of the enhanced interrogation techniques said, "I don't have any basis to believe that ... any leads here were produced by illegal activities on our part. I have no basis to know that. And my views about the fact that torture produces misinformation, not good information, are pretty well known."

Intelligence Committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., agreed with Levin, saying today, "To the best of our knowledge, based on a look, none of it came as a result of harsh interrogation practices."

John Yoo, the former Bush Justice Department official who authored legal memos authorizing the use of the controversial interrogation techniques, released Monday night a statement praising the Obama administration for its successful operation.

But Yoo went on to say that the capture was a "vindication" of the Bush administration's terrorism policies.

Yoo pointed to "anonymous government sources" quoted in the media linking the interrogation of al Qaeda leaders to the identification the courier.

He praised the Bush administration.

"Imagine what would have happened if the Obama administration had been running things back in 2002-08," he said. "It would have given Miranda warnings and lawyers to KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] and other al Qaeda leaders, no Gitmo, no military commissions; instead civilian trials on U.S. soil with all of the Bill of Rights benefits for terrorist defendants.

"There would have been no enhanced interrogation program, no terrorist surveillance program, and hence no intelligence mosaic that could have given us the information that produced today's success. In the war on terror, it is much easier to pull the trigger -- the truly hard task is to figure out where to aim. Obama can take credit, rightfully, for the success today, but he owes it to the tough decisions taken by the Bush administration."

But Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch said, "Yes, imagine if the United States had complied with the rule of law from the very beginning. We might have obtained the information years earlier.

"One of the problems with using the harsh techniques," she said, "is we can't tell what's true and false, people spend millions of dollars tracking down false leads.

"There are serious costs to the U.S. interrogators, some of whom have spoken out about the mental damage they have suffered from participating in coercive interrogations, and the damage to U.S. national security that ensued because both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have been used as recruiting tools to terrorists. These costs are incredibly serious."

At a news briefing today, Obama spokesperson Jay Carney revealed few details on the information gathered from interrogations. "The fact is that no single piece of information led to the successful mission that occurred on Sunday and multiple detainees provided insights into the networks of people that might have been close to bin laden," he said.

ABC News' Jason Ryan and Matthew Jaffe contributed to this report.