As he marked his 100th day in office at a prime time news conference Wednesday, President Obama defended his decision to ban "enhanced" interrogation techniques by conceding an argument to the most prominent defender of them, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Obama acknowledged that the use of interrogation methods probably yielded valuable information that saved American lives -- a point that Cheney has repeatedly hammered in his quest to have more intelligence reports released.
But Obama argued that isn't the central point.
"That we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques doesn't answer the core question, which is could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques?" he said.
And he argued that banning all the enhanced interrogation techniques was the right thing to do because the information could have been gleaned in other ways.
But officials familiar with the interrogation program say that is simply not true with top al Qaeda operatives.
"The 14 major or 16 high-value targets we captured were all trained to resist interrogation," Michael Scheuer, a former CIA employee, told FOX News.
Interrogators started with the mildest forms of questioning with Abu Zubaydah, the first high-ranking terrorist captured. When he stopped cooperating, they slowly escalated techniques, eventually turning to waterboarding.
After that, Zubaydah gave up much more information, some of it leading to the capture of Ramzi Binalshibb, which in turn led to Sept. 11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
"There's a whole string of captures and interrogations that lead to other captures and interrogations to subsequent captures," said Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and CIA.
In fact, Khalid Sheik Mohammed provided information that exposed a plot to launch a Sept. 11 style attack on the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles -- information obtained through enhanced interrogation methods, including waterboarding.
"Two of the people against whom waterboading was used created a significant fraction of our reporting on al Qaeda over a period of several years," Hayden said.
But Obama has raised questions about whether the information could have been collected in other ways.
Critics of harsh interrogation complain that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded some 183 times. If he'd been willing to cooperate as the president hopes, that wouldn't have been necessary. Though the 183 refers to every time water was poured, not separate episodes.
"Every application of whatever amount of water is used counts as waterboarding," Scheuer said.
Obama made one other argument Wednesday night, pulled from World War II.
"When London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees," he said. "And Churchill said, 'We don't torture.'"
Even though the British, Obama added, were being subjected to unimaginable risk. But as it turns out, his account is not true. British records show they used the equivalent of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as sleep deprivation and exposure to cold water, among other things, to successfully extract information from captured German spies.