Like so many memes that persist in politics, this one started on the Internet. The morning after President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan, conservatives started crowing that credit should be given to President George W. Bush -- specifically, for having the foresight and courage to torture the people who provided the initial scraps of intel that ultimately led the CIA to a giant compound just north of Islamabad.
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The most prominent of these conservatives was Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who took to Twitter to ask sardonically, "Wonder what President Obama thinks of water boarding now?
About two hours later, the Associated Press published a brief story claiming that the CIA obtained the initial intelligence it needed to find bin Laden from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- the so-called mastermind of 9/11 -- and his successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi at CIA black sites in Poland and Romania.
Those secret prisons, which the Obama administration contends to have abandoned, were the facilities where Mohammed and al-Libi were waterboarded. There, the detainees supposedly identified by nom de guerre a courier who would years later be located by American intelligence officials, and lead them to bin Laden's compound.
"The news is sure to reignite debate over whether the now-closed interrogation and detention program was successful," the AP wrote. "Former president George W. Bush authorized the CIA to use the harshest interrogation tactics in U.S. history. President Barack Obama closed the prison system."
There's just one problem. The key bit of intel wasn't acquired via torture, according to a more fleshed out version of the same report.
But the myth provided a brief opening. Thus have Republicans constructed a version of events by which they -- and Bush in particular -- deserve some of credit for bin Laden's death. Not all of it. Indeed they have by and large acknowledged Obama's role, and congratulated him on it. And most have not been as brazen as King or the Tea Party Express in attributing the success of the mission to Bush's interrogation policies. But Bush, they argue, played a big part as well, akin to the husband who loosens the lid to a Mason jar only to watch his wife open it effortlessly.