CIA Interrogations and the Bin Laden Operation
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The operation that killed Osama bin Laden has reignited the debate over Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) interrogations. Numerous intelligence officials Listen to Audio

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have stated that information from terrorist detainees helped the CIA identify bin Laden's principal courier, who led us to his secret compound in Abbottabad. Yet on his second day in office, President Barack Obama shut down the very interrogation program that helped find bin Laden--and outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, no high-value terrorists have been detained during the Obama administration.

How important were CIA interrogations in the killing of bin Laden? Are critics right that enhanced interrogations do not produce reliable intelligence? In light of recent events, should the Obama administration continue its current policy of killing rather than capturing and interrogating terrorists? And if not, should the United States bring captured terrorists to Guantanamo again? Participants will discuss these and other questions.
1:15 PM
1:30 PM
ELISA MASSIMINO, Human Rights First
JUDGE MICHAEL B. MUKASEY, Former US Attorney General
JOHN RIZZO, Former Acting General Counsel of the CIA
BENJAMIN WITTES, Brookings Institution
Question and Answer
3:00 PM

Event Summary

WASHINGTON, MAY 16, 2011--The US operation that killed Osama bin Laden has reignited a national debate on interrogation methods. AEI hosted a vibrant discussion Monday on the role CIA interrogations played in the bin Laden operation, with Judge Michael B. Mukasey confirming that they led to critical intelligence for finding bin Laden. Mukasey also highlighted the need for an interrogation program that is "lawful and classified," and a "coherent detention policy" so that the United States knows "who we detain and who we kill and on what basis." John Rizzo, former acting general counsel of the CIA, agreed that the enhanced-interrogation program yielded tremendous amounts of critical intelligence, which he was not certain would have been gained otherwise. AEI's Marc A. Thiessen also asserted that CIA enhanced-interrogation techniques were key to gaining intelligence for the bin Laden operation. He further argued that the United States needs classified interrogation techniques to succeed in the war on terror. Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First, disagreed, arguing that techniques such as waterboarding violate US values, are not necessarily successful methods for gaining new intelligence, and are detrimental to the war on terror by harming the US image internationally. Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, pointed out that in the wake of bin Laden's death, the key to moving forward for the United States is the development of a long-term detention "architecture" for high-value detainees, not just further discussion on interrogation techniques. The panel emphasized the importance of clear political guidance going forward to support the development of a program for the detainment and interrogation of high-value detainees.


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Speaker Biographies

Elisa Massimino
is the president and CEO of Human Rights First, one of the country’s leading human-rights advocacy organizations. She was instrumental in its recent effort to assemble a group of retired generals and admirals to speak out publicly against policies authorizing the torture of prisoners in US custody. Ms. Massimino joined Human Rights First as a staff attorney in 1991 and served as its Washington director from 1997 to 2008. Previously, she was a litigator in private practice at the Washington law firm Hogan & Hartson, where she was pro bono counsel in many human-rights cases. Before joining the legal profession, she taught philosophy at several universities in Michigan. Ms. Massimino is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, where she teaches human-rights advocacy, and has taught international human-rights law at the University of Virginia and refugee law at the George Washington University School of Law. She is also a member of the bar of the US Supreme Court. As a national authority on human-rights law and policy, Ms. Massimino has testified before Congress dozens of times and writes frequently for mainstream publications and specialized journals. She appears regularly in major media outlets and speaks to audiences around the country. In May 2008, the influential Washington newspaper the Hill named her one of the top twenty public advocates in the country.

Michael B. Mukasey
recently served as the eighty-first US attorney general, the country's chief law-enforcement officer. As attorney general from November 2007 to January 2009, he oversaw the Department of Justice and advised on critical issues of domestic and international law. Judge Mukasey also served for eighteen years as a judge of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, including six years as chief judge. He is the recipient of several awards, most notably the Learned Hand Medal of the Federal Bar Council. Judge Mukasey joined the international law firm Debevoise & Plimpton as a partner in the litigation practice in New York in February 2009. He focuses his practice on internal investigations, independent board reviews, and corporate governance.

John Rizzo
is the former acting general counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and spent thirty-four years in the CIA's Office of General Counsel. From 2001 to 2002 and from 2004 to 2009, he was the chief legal officer at the CIA and dealt with the most challenging legal issues in the post-9/11 era. During that time, Mr. Rizzo was responsible for all legal matters at the CIA, including national security and international law, administrative and contract law, and criminal and civil litigation. Also during his tenure, he was the deputy director for the Office of Congressional Affairs and the principal interlocutor with the House and Senate congressional committees investigating the Iran-Contra affair. Early in his career, Mr. Rizzo was the principal drafter of the CIA regulations for the conduct of intelligence activities in the United States--regulations that remain in effect today. He was the recipient of the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal, the highest recognition accorded to a career CIA officer. In 1996, he won the Tom C. Clark Award from the Federal Bar Association as the most outstanding lawyer in government; to date, he is the only Intelligence Community attorney to receive the award. Mr. Rizzo is senior counsel in the Washington office of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, where he is a member of the national and homeland security practice and of the firm's international department. He is also a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Marc A. Thiessen
was a member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush and served as chief speechwriter to the president and to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Before joining the Bush administration, Mr. Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC). He is a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, and his articles can be found in many major publications. His book on the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation program, Courting Disaster (Regnery Press, 2010), is a New York Times bestseller. At AEI, Mr. Thiessen writes about US foreign and defense policy issues for and the Enterprise Blog.

Benjamin Wittes is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of Detention and Denial: The Case for Candor after Guantanamo (Brookings Institution Press, 2010) and Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror (Penguin Press, June 2008), and the editor of Legislating the War on Terror: An Agenda for Reform (Brookings Institution Press, 2009). He cofounded and cowrites the Lawfare blog, which is devoted to nonideological discussion of the "hard national security choices," and is a member of the Hoover Institution's Task Force on National Security and Law. Between 1997 and 2006, he was an editorial writer for the Washington Post specializing in legal affairs. Before joining the editorial-page staff, Mr. Wittes covered the Department of Justice and federal regulatory agencies as a reporter and news editor at Legal Times. His writing has also appeared in a wide range of journals and magazines, including Slate, the New Republic, Wilson Quarterly, the Weekly Standard, Policy Review, and First Things.

John Yoo
is a visiting scholar at AEI. He has been a professor of law at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law since 1993. From 2001 to 2003, he was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of the Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice, where he worked on issues involving foreign affairs, national security, and the separation of powers. He also served as general counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 1996. Mr. Yoo is the author of Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush (Kaplan Publishing, 2010), War by Other Means: An Insider's Account of the War on Terror (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006), and The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs after 9/11

(University of Chicago Press, 2005).


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