Waterboarding of 9/11 Mastermind and Murderer Enabled C.I.A. to Glean “Intelligence Riches,” according to Today’s New York Times

Looks like even The New York Times acknowledges that the C.I.A.’s use of water boarding as an enhanced interrogation technique was effective in gleaning vital intelligence from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, the man who also personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl:

“Within days of his capture, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was flown to Afghanistan and then to Poland, where the most important unit of the black sites was located.

Mr. Mohammed met his captors at first with cocky defiance, telling one veteran C.I.A. officer, a former Pakistan station chief, that he would talk only when he got to New York and was assigned a lawyer — the experience of his nephew and partner in terrorism, Ramzi Yousef, after Mr. Yousef’s arrest in 1995.

But the rules had changed, and the tough treatment began shortly after Mr. Mohammed arrived. By several accounts, he proved especially resistant, chanting from the Koran, doling out innocuous information or obvious fabrications. The Times reported in 2007 that the intensity of his treatment — various harsh techniques, including waterboarding, were used about 100 times over a period of two weeks — prompted worries that officers might have crossed the boundary into illegal torture.

The intelligence riches ultimately gleaned from Mr. Mohammed were reflected in the report of the national 9/11 commission, whose footnotes credit his interrogations 60 times for facts about Al Qaeda and its plotting — while also occasionally noting assertions by him that were “not credible.”‘

I am neither an attorney nor an expert in enhanced interrogation techniques. But I am a New Yorker who knew many innocent people who suffered the tortures of the damned on September 11th. I am a human rights advocate, but I do not believe the Geneva Conventions must necessarily in all instances apply to individuals who voluntarily and without conscription choose to lead movements dedicated to the deliberate murder of civilians.

Whether or not water boarding constitutes torture, the fact is, the Bush administration authorized the C.I.A. to use this technique in exactly three instances, in each case on a top-level al Qaeda mastermind who had dedicated his life to the deliberate slaughter of civilians.

A review of  the justice department memos released by the Obama administration suggests that the interrogators of these individuals were never unsupervised, out of control, or subjecting these terrorists to harsh interrogation for kicks. To the contrary, the interrogations were closely supervised by medical professionals to insure there was no permanent physical damage caused. Whether one agrees or not, the interrogations were conducted to obtain information, and at least in the case of KSM, they did. In his case, not only did the interrogations lead to a general increase in the amount of intelligence regarding al Qaeda and its affiliates, but to information that enabled agents to pre-empt specific terror plots including the ‘Second Wave’ – a detailed plan to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast.

In all the concern over legal technicalities, it is easy lose sight of common sense. Bill O’Reilly had it right the other night on his show when he said that no sane American, “unless you’re a maniac,” would hesitate to pour water on a terrorist’s face and make him feel like he’s drowning in order to protect the lives of that American’s family. So how is it that some leftists and human rights advocates feel justified in calling for retroactive prosecution of Americans who made that call, which probably saved American lives?

If we don’t need to use water boarding or other harsh interrogation techniques, we shouldn’t. But it’s time to recognize the Bush administration did not employ these techniques for kicks, and to acknowledge, as did President Obama’s national intelligence director Dennis C. Blair in an internal memo, that use of enhanced interrogation produced valuable information.

Water boarding is now banned. Just as well, since the release of the memos concerning its use have perhaps made it obsolete. That means that if, heaven forbid, more terror attacks or C.I.A. knowledge of plots result in a “ticking time bomb” scenario for President Obama or another U.S. president, he or she will be deprived of what seems to have been a useful technique in extracting information from hardened terrorists without causing them permanent physical damage or death.

In the event of a ticking time bomb scenario, to what techniques will President Obama or another, future President resort in order to protect American lives? In case he is faced with such decisions, President Obama would be wise to avoid retroactive prosecution of those justice department officials who have had to make those calls in the past.

It is doubtful President Obama will allow prosecution of these justice department officials. We are at war with a vicious enemy, after all, and whatever gestures he may make, President Obama is not a fool and surely realizes there is precedent in wartime for a President to exercise war powers in order to protect the American people.

This is a War on Terror, folks. Let’s use common sense and have a little faith in those we’ve elected to do so as well.

This entry was written by and posted on May 2, 2009 at 8:27 pm and filed under Blog.