UPDATED: Interrogation expert: Waterboarding set back bin Laden hunt by a couple of years

UPDATE: Here's the story, which is getting a wildly enthusiastic response so far (thank you!). Meanwhile, because so many of my commenters and emailers have expressed an open mind about both the effectiveness and the morality of torture, I thought you'd also like to read this excellent editorial in the New York Times:

There are many arguments against torture. It is immoral and illegal and counterproductive. The Bush administration’s abuses — and ends justify the means arguments — did huge damage to this country’s standing and gave its enemies succor and comfort. If that isn’t enough, there is also the pragmatic argument that most experienced interrogators think that the same information, or better, can be obtained through legal and humane means.

No matter what Mr. Yoo and friends may claim, the real lesson of the Bin Laden operation is that it demonstrated what can be done with focused intelligence work and persistence.

Here's a tease from my article in tomorrow's Daily News about the tortured debate over torture (link whenever it goes online):

Indeed, one former senior Air Force interrogator from the Iraq war, who has written two books under the pseudonym Matthew Alexander, told the Daily News last night he believes that the waterboarding of top bin Laden aides in the early 2000s may have actually slowed down the search by a couple of years.

Alexander — author of the recent Kill or Capture: How a Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious al Qaeda Terroristsaid that waterboarding bin Laden aide Khalid Sheikh Mohammed phony leads about the terrorist’s courier, and a second al-Qaeda higher-up gave agents a fake name. “That led to the CIA wasting time and resources,” he said.

Do I mention yesterday that torture doesn't work, in addition to being illegal and immoral. I believe that I did.

Regarding the Leon Panetta comments that so many of you have made sure that I know about, I think the CIA director's actual words are pretty ambiguous and inconclusive (and Michael Smerconish, a longtime advocate of, ahem, "enhanced interrogation" agrees; he told me in an email for my article that "Panetta seemed to hedge with Brian Williams"). Remember, Panetta sees his mission as improving the morale of agents who were ordered to conduct the Bush-era torture -- which is why he's not the torture-blaster he was before taking the post. He also said it's an "open question" whether torture produces intel you can't get otherwise; Alexander told me what other skilled interrogators have also said: That torture produces lies and useless information.

But like Journey always said, don't stop believin', you torture enthusiasts out there.