Waterboarding Success Stories: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Library Tower

The waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is often cited as one of the major waterboarding "success stories". ABC News reporter Brian Ross credited waterboarding for the crucial information used to avert the destruction of Library Tower.

ROSS: That has happened in some cases where the material that's been given has not been accurate, has been essentially to stop the torture. In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the information was very valuable, particularly names and addresses of people who were involved with al Qaeda in this country and in Europe. And in one particular plot, which would involve an airline attack on the tallest building in Los Angeles, known as the Library Tower.

The US Bank Tower plot was revealed to the public by President Bush on February 9, 2006 in a speech to the National Guard Association:

In the weeks after September the 11th, while Americans were still recovering from an unprecedented strike on our homeland, al Qaeda was already busy planning its next attack. We now know that in October 2001, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad -- the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks -- had already set in motion a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door, and fly the plane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We believe the intended target was Liberty [sic] Tower in Los Angeles, California.

Rather than use Arab hijackers as he had on September the 11th, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad sought out young men from Southeast Asia -- whom he believed would not arouse as much suspicion. To help carry out this plan, he tapped a terrorist named Hambali [Riduan Isamuddin], one of the leaders of an al Qaeda affiliated group in Southeast Asia called "J-I" [Jemaah Islamiyah]. JI terrorists were responsible for a series of deadly attacks in Southeast Asia, and members of the group had trained with al Qaeda. Hambali recruited several key operatives who had been training in Afghanistan. Once the operatives were recruited, they met with Osama bin Laden, and then began preparations for the West Coast attack.

Their plot was derailed in early 2002 when a Southeast Asian nation arrested a key al Qaeda operative. Subsequent debriefings and other intelligence operations made clear the intended target, and how al Qaeda hoped to execute it. This critical intelligence helped other allies capture the ringleaders and other known operatives who had been recruited for this plot. The West Coast plot had been thwarted.

Which aspects of this plot could Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's waterboarding have revealed?

  • We learned about Al Qaeda's interest in flying planes into buildings on September 11, 2001.

  • We knew about Al Qaeda's use of shoe bombs from Richard Reid, captured in December 22, 2001.
  • We knew about Jemaah Islamiyah at least since the Bali Bomb attack on October 12, 2002.
  • The "key al Qaeda operative" and pilot for the plot, Zaini Zakari, was arrested by Malaysian authorities in December 2002.
  • Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on March 1, 2003after the plot was discovered, after the plot was "derailed", after the pilot of the plane was captured. Khaled Sheikh Mohammed could not have "provided valuable information and saved lives" when all aspects of the plot were well-known and the attack had been foiled prior to his capture.

    Coercive interrogation is extremely effective at obtaining confessions. Evidence obtained from coercive interrogation is highly dubious and must be corroborated with reliable sources. The claims of interrogators who coerce their prisoners should be treated with as much skepticism as the claims of the prisoners themselves.