Lifesaving Device
Waterboarding should remain in America's interrogation toolbox.


Deroy Murdock

Imagine that tomorrow at daybreak, in a remote Afghan village, U.S. Special Forces seize Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who now serves Osama bin Laden as the de facto vice president of al-Qaeda. American GIs handcuff him and whisk him to an undisclosed location for questioning.

Zawahiri’s head brims with first-hand knowledge of still-unfolding Islamofascist conspiracies to murder and maim Americans. Specifically, Zawahiri struggles to mask his excitement over a Special Day of Infidel Doom that he and his associates have arranged against symbols of “U.S. decadence.” If all goes according to plan, Zawahiri reassures himself while awaiting interrogation, teams of Muslim fanatics will deal America an aching blow on New Year’s Day:

Simultaneous explosions will jolt Americans out of their champagne-fueled hangovers when a dozen homicide bombers detonate their backpacks full of Dynamite and nails throughout Disney World, bringing mass mayhem to the Magic Kingdom.

Moments later, a Los Angeles city bus explodes along busy Hollywood Boulevard, shredding passengers and passersby and devastating the Kodak Theater, where Allah’s idolatrous enemies worship a golden statue called Oscar.

Meanwhile, as ambulances race to that blood-soaked scene, two Islamic terrorists trigger their powerful bomb belts in the lobby of Times Square’s Shubert Theater, killing scores of Broadway afficionadi as they insensitively giggle their way through that celebration of the Infidel Crusaders, Monty Python’s Spamalot.

Two minutes later, the day’s biggest surprise begins when a seemingly harmless van erupts outside Caesar’s Palace. Hot metal slivers and specks of enriched uranium fly through the cool air as a dirty bomb disrupts the endless high living on the Las Vegas Strip. But what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. TV and cell-phone cameras instantly broadcast this carnage, and scenes from these other atrocities, to terrorized viewers worldwide.

Zawahiri thinks about this and smiles to himself: These silly Americans have no idea what awaits them.

Al-Qaeda’s No. 2 man doesn’t say a word, choosing instead to jangle his manacles and recite Koranic verses from memory. In their own way, U.S. interrogators are shackled, too. They may not delay Zawahiri’s meals so his hunger pangs might make him chatty. They may not make his cell colder or warmer, in hopes that a desire for climatic comfort might loosen his lips. They may not put a hood over his head, trusting that the mere wish for sunlight might render him cooperative. The good cop/bad cop routine so common to U.S. police departments could be used, but not without the express approval of the Secretary of Defense. Well, maybe later.

“What about waterboarding?” one interrogator asks.

His colleagues explode into hysterical laughter.

“Are you trying to get us killed?” one of them shoots back.

These intelligence specialists keep trying to crack Zawahiri for nearly two weeks, marveling at his resolve. He never offers a helpful word.

Then, just as 2008 dawns, these interrogators catch CNN International’s Breaking News report. Deadly bombs have struck Orlando, Los Angeles, and Manhattan. And an already horrid Las Vegas blast grows unthinkable as gamma rays dart among the blackjack tables and roulette wheels. What, the interrogators start wondering, did Zawahiri know about this, and when did he know it?

The foregoing is the kind of dramatic but plausible scenario that waterboarding opponents hate to discuss. (These weaklings include the 217 Democratic House members and five Republicans who voted Thursday to ban waterboarding; 10 Democrats and 189 Republicans voted opposite.) Denouncing waterboarding as “torture,” they are desperate to banish this highly effective tactic that somehow makes terrorists surrender priceless details on what they and their associates have up their wicked sleeves. While the stakes could not be higher, these soft-headed folks demand that America discard waterboarding. This, they assure us, will return America to the moral high ground, upon which they beckon us to await a vicious, unscrupulous gang of killers dedicated to our destruction. These murderers are deadly serious, as 2,978 innocents learned on September 11, 2001.

This invitation to mass suicide is wrapped in misguided ethical purity.

Recent revelations by 14-year CIA veteran John Kiriakou bolster the case for waterboarding. Simply put, it works — even when nothing else does.

Former agent Kiriakou belonged to the CIA-FBI team that captured and interrogated al-Qaeda logistics chief Zayn Abidin Muhammed Hussein Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002.

“He was the biggest fish we had caught,” the retired agent told ABC News’ intrepid investigative correspondent, Brian Ross. “We knew he was full of information, and we wanted to get it.”

Kiriakou recalls Zubaydah being taciturn from the start. When Kiriakou asked Zubaydah in Arabic to identify himself, Kiriakou recalls the 9/11 conspirator telling him in English that “He would not speak to me in God’s language.”

For weeks, Zubaydah refused to answer questions and remained “wholly uncooperative.” Interrogators eventually received high-level CIA permission to waterboard Zubaydah, although Kiriakou was not among those who did so. Zubaydah was placed face up on a plank with his head tilted downward. After putting a rag over it, interrogators poured water on his face in a technique that simulated drowning without actually jeopardizing his life. Within just 30 – 35 seconds, Zubaydah’s attitude changed.

“It was like flipping a switch,” Kiriakou said.

“A short time afterwards, in the next day or so,” Kiriakou informed ABC’s Ross, “he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate because his cooperation would make it easier on the other brothers who had been captured. And from that day on, he answered every question, just like I’m sitting here speaking to you.”

Kiriakou added: “The threat information that he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.”

He also detailed the inner workings of America’s chief enemy.

According to Kiriakou, Zubaydah revealed “al Qaeda’s leadership structure and mentioned people who we really didn’t have any familiarization with [and] told us who we should be thinking about, who we should be looking at, and who was important in the organization so we were able to focus our investigation this way.”