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What Panetta Told McCain About Bin Laden And 'Enhanced Interrogation'

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who speaks from experience because he was tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has long opposed "enhanced interrogation" techniques such as water-boarding.

Last week, when he said he's convinced that such methods did not play a meaningful role in the ultimately successful effort to find and kill Osama bin Laden, McCain wrote that he based that conclusion in part on information he had been told by CIA Director Leon Panetta.

A U.S. official has provided NPR's Rachel Martin with excerpts of a letter that Panetta sent to McCain last week about the work that led to finding bin Laden.

Panetta wrote that:

"Nearly 10 years of intensive intelligence work led the CIA to conclude that Bin Ladin was likely hiding at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There was no one 'essential and indispensible' [sic] key piece of information that led us to this conclusion. Rather, the intelligence picture was developed via painstaking collection and analysis. Multiple streams of intelligence — including from detainees, but also from multiple other sources — led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was at this compound. Some of the detainees who provided useful information about the facilitator/courier's role had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques were the 'only timely and effective way' to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively. What is definitive is that that information was only a part of multiple streams of intelligence that led us to Bin Ladin.

"Let me further point out that we first learned about the facilitator/courier's nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier's role were alerting.

"In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier's full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means."

Note: NPR follows Associated Press style on the spelling of bin Laden's name. The CIA uses a different spelling.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.