Matthew Alexander is a twenty year veteran of the Air Force and Air Force Reserves. He supervised or conducted over 1,300 interrogations in Iraq and led the interrogations that located the Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in an airstrike. Alexander's latest book is Kill or Capture: How a Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious Al Qaeda Terrorist. He is currently a Fellow at UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations.
While some may celebrate the one-year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, perhaps time would be better served evaluating why it came nine years too late. The sad truth is that bin Laden should have been dead twice in the first two years after 9/11.
The first opportunity was missed in the mountains of Tora Bora early in the war in Afghanistan, when former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that local Afghan forces kill bin Laden rather than allowing our own elite fighters to do so when they had him in their sights. It was also Rumsfeld’s decision not to seal off the border with Pakistan, declaring victory too early because of his arrogance (a theme that would be repeated in Iraq), thus allowing bin Laden to escape.
The second opportunity was missed when the Bush administration approved the CIA's waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the mastermind of 9/11 and former al Qaeda operations officer. Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA officer who ran the agency's torture program, now insists in his new book, Hard Measures, that torture led to the identification of an al Qaeda courier and the killing of Osama bin Laden. The truth, however, is that KSM lied to his interrogators and told them that Abu Ahmed, the nom de guerre of bin Laden's courier, had retired when in fact he was still active. That lie cost us almost a decade in the hunt for bin Laden. As al Qaeda's chief of operations, KSM certainly knew that Abu Ahmed could prove to be the key piece to finding the former al Qaeda leader, but he did exactly what professional interrogators have been saying people do when faced with coercion—they lie or give limited and misleading information. In the end, it turned out Abu Ahmed was one of the vital pieces of intelligence that led to bin Laden's demise...