For some time now, it's been evident that a critical part of the George W. Bush approach to terrorism was to market al-Qaeda terrorists as supervillains, such masters of evil that special laws and special facilities were need to stop them. X-Men with a Q instead.
In particular, such fiendish evilitude would only give up vital information through waterboarding. Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen has been front and center in explaining the key information that waterboarding allowed --
In fact, what Abu Zubaydah disclosed to the CIA during this period [summer 2002] was that the fact that KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and that his code name was “Muktar” — something Zubaydah thought we already knew, but in fact we did not. Intelligence officials had been trying for months to figure out who “Muktar” was.
Consider now the case of the Qatari Ali al-Marri. al-Marri had looked like he was going to make legal history in determining whether non US citizens living in the US could be declared enemy combatants, but Barack Obama moved him into the civilian court system where he took a plea bargain for terrorism conspiracy. A mountain of evidence has been released with his plea, and it reveals a stunning ... banality. His super sophisticated code for phone numbers, which presumably reflects his al-Qaeda training? Write each digit as its difference from 10. And his e-mail procedures? --
Al-Marri sent e-mails to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's hotmail account — HOR70@hotmail.com — addressed to "Muk" and signed "Abdo." The details of that code were included in an address book found in an al-Qaida safehouse in Pakistan.
An attempt by The Associated Press to reach that address did not indicate the account had been closed, but it went unanswered.
Al-Marri initially tried to use a Yahoo e-mail account to contact Mohammed, but it failed to go through. So he switched to Hotmail as well. When al-Marri arrived in the United States, he created five new e-mail accounts to communicate with Mohammed, using the 10-code to send him his cell phone number in Peoria.
So US intelligence officials must have been monitoring him in late 2001, and by December 2001 had him in custody with essentially unlimited powers to go through his records and find out who he had been in touch with. Which likely included knowing KSM's e-mail address and his nickname. With such an amateur operation, can it really be that torture was needed to extract the same information in August 2002? With such an amateur operation, can it really be that they couldn't have been stopped in the summer of 2001?