Today, Library Tower looms 73 stories above Los Angeles. But the Pacific Coast’s highest skyscraper might have become a smoldering pile of steel beams had CIA interrogators not waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) 183 times in March 2003, as recently released memoranda reveal. Americans should be proud that our public servants had the patience and persistence to pressure al-Qaeda’s self-described military chief until he cracked, ratted on his homicidal conspirators, and thus prevented a bloody attack that could have murdered thousands of innocents and transformed much of downtown L.A. into Ground Zero West.
The hardcore hand-wringing among soft-headed liberals over the so-called “torture memos” ignores the fact that these tactics squeezed priceless intelligence from KSM and from al-Qaeda’s Abu Zubaydah (waterboarded 83 times in August 2002). Tough stuff? You bet. But nowhere as nasty as what these killers had up their sleeves.
As former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen pointed out in April 21’s Washington Post, a declassified May 30, 2005, Justice Department memo states: “Before the CIA used enhanced [interrogation] techniques . . . KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, ‘Soon you will find out.’” Waterboarding finally loosened his lips.
What this technique uncovered, according to the memo, was “a KSM plot, the ‘Second Wave,’ ‘to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into’ a building in Los Angeles.” KSM later told Guantanamo authorities that al-Qaeda had targeted the 1,018-foot-tall Library Tower, the highest building west of the Mississippi. KSM’s confessions, the memo says, prompted “the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemmah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the ‘Second Wave.’”
“Information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali,” the memo continues. Hambali supervised the October 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 vacationers, including seven Americans, and wounded 209 others. Had KSM remained unwaterboarded, Hambali likely would have orchestrated fresh atrocities.
Rough questioning inspired KSM to identify Iyman Faris. He was convicted of plotting to sever the Brooklyn Bridge’s cables with torches so it would crumble into the East River. KSM also fingered 9/11 collaborator Yazid Sufaat. The 9/11 Commission Report states on page 151: “Sufaat would spend several months attempting to cultivate anthrax for al Qaeda in a laboratory he helped set up near the Kandahar airport.”
What about Abu Zubaydah? He long was considered a top al-Qaeda catch, although the insufferable New York Times described him as just “a helpful training camp personnel clerk who would arrange false documents and travel for jihadists, including Qaeda members.” Waterboarding made al-Qaeda’s “travel agent” sing. He squealed on USS Cole bomber Rahim al-Nashiri (17 Americans dead, 40 wounded), 9/11 conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and KSM — helping snare all three.
Justice’s memo concludes, “The CIA believes ‘the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001.’”
Besides waterboarding KSM, Abu Zubaydah, and Rahim al-Nashiri, enhanced interrogations for less hardened terror suspects who ignored simple interview questions involved face slapping, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, and dietary manipulation. Even softer terrorists needed to be leaned on, though more lightly. Are any of these techniques too much? One memo quotes Abu Zubaydah himself on what it takes to crack a terrorist: “Brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship.” Preventing mass murder sometimes requires American security personnel to push these sworn killers past that line.
Meanwhile, the ceaseless whimpering over KSM’s waterboarding almost universally neglects his victims’ agony. KSM masterminded the 9/11 massacre (2,976 dead, 7,356 wounded). He also, he said, “decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the City of Karachi, Pakistan.” KSM financed the February 1993 Twin Towers bombing (six dead, 1,040 injured). According to the March 16, 2007, Wall Street Journal, KSM admitted he was “directly in charge” of “managing and following up on the Cell for the Production of Biological Weapons, such as anthrax and others, and following up on Dirty Bomb Operations on American Soil.”
KSM has no regrets. In a Guantanamo military-commission pleading to U.S. Army Judge Col. Stephen Henley, KSM and four co-defendants wrote on March 5:
Your intelligence apparatus, with all its abilities, human and logistical, had failed to discover our military attack plans before the blessed 11 September operation. They were unable to foil our attack . . .
Our prophet was victorious because of fear. At a month distant, the enemy did not hear from him. So, our religion is a religion of fear and terror to the enemies of God: the Jews, Christians, and pagans. With God’s wiling [sic], we are terrorists to the bone. So, many thanks to God.
The Arab poet, Abu-Ubaydah Al-Hadrami, has stated: “We will terrorize you, as long as we live with swords, fire, and airplanes.” . . .
We will make all of our materials available, to defend and deter, and egress you and the filthy Jews from our countries. . . .
We ask to be near to God, we fight you and destroy you and terrorize you. The Jihad in god’s cause is a great duty in our religion…Your end is very near and your fall will be just as the fall of the towers on the blessed 9/11 day. . . .
So we ask from God to accept our contributions to the great attack, the great attack on America, and to place our nineteen martyred brethren among the highest peaks in paradise.
Thus, my eyes stayed as dry as the Sahara upon learning that American counterterrorists had dampened KSM’s nostrils 183 times. I prefer to cry for the 2,976 individuals whom KSM, Abu Zubaydah, and their colleagues slaughtered on 9/11. Of the 2,752 they killed at the World Trade Center, 1,125 (41 percent) were literally vaporized. These victims’ loved ones do not have so much as bone fragments to bury, nor place flowers upon, nor shed tears over.
Now that is torture.
– New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.