The benefit of waterboarding is now obvious: SEALs turned a terrorist into shark food.
In a dazzling operation, Navy SEALs deployed by Pres. Barack Obama penetrated Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. One SEAL pumped two bullets into the al-Qaeda leader’s left eye. The unscathed SEALs exited in a chopper, along with bin Laden’s cadaver and his priceless files and computers. Bin Laden’s comrades lay dead near the flaming ruin of a Blackhawk helicopter, the assignment’s only American casualty. After bin Laden’s positive identification and the incantation of Koranic verses over his carcass, he was dropped from the deck of the USS Carl Vinson like a festering rat — a worthwhile act of recycling.
This would not have transpired without waterboarding.
Educating the public about this fact is not a petty effort by the Right to bask in President Obama’s Abbottabad afterglow. Rather it is a vital point to make that says at least as much about the future of the War on Terror as about its past.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams on May 3 asked CIA Director Leon Panetta, “Are you denying that waterboarding was, in part, among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to this successful mission?”
“No,” Panetta replied. Intelligence officers “used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees.” Williams asked if that “handy euphemism . . . includes waterboarding.” Panetta replied, “That’s correct.”
“Anyone who suggests that the enhanced techniques — let’s be blunt: waterboarding — did not produce an enormous amount of valuable intelligence just isn’t facing the truth,” former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared that evening on Fox News’s Hannity program. “Three people were waterboarded by the CIA away from Guantanamo and then later brought to Guantanamo,” Rumsfeld continued. “The information that came from those individuals was critically important.”
House Homeland Security Committee chairman Peter King (R., N.Y.) cited Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, bin Laden’s courier who unwittingly led U.S. intelligence to Abbottabad. King told me in an interview:
The first indication that he [al-Kuwaiti] was close to bin Laden and was a serious player came from [September 11 architect] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, right after he was waterboarded. Before that, KSM basically gave up nothing. After he was waterboarded, KSM gave an answer on the courier. This put the courier on the map. That was the first time they saw that he was close to bin Laden. That was in 2003. . . . In 2005, Abu Faraj al-Libbi was subject to very enhanced interrogation, and gave more leads on the courier.
King added: “The first two bits of information on the courier were from KSM, who was waterboarded, and al-Libbi, who faced enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Opponents dismiss waterboarding because KSM did not scream “al-Kuwaiti!” while his nostrils still were wet. This misses the point. Waterboarding dissolved the resistance of exactly three al-Qaeda commanders: KSM, Abu Zubaydah, and Rahim al-Nashiri. Then they started to talk. One muttered comment here, a minor phrase there, and the complete jigsaw puzzle eventually revealed the road to bin Laden’s hideout.
Critics also reject waterboarding because “detainees will say anything to stop the pain.” Of course, “anything” includes the truth. To avoid further waterboarding, KSM, Zubaydah, and al-Nashiri ratted out — among others — Hambali (mastermind of the Bali nightclub bombing that killed 202, including seven Americans), Iyman Faris (who aimed to use torches to sever the Brooklyn Bridge’s cables and crumble it into the East River), and Yazid Suffat (who ran an al-Qaeda anthrax laboratory near Kandahar). Thanks to waterboarding, KSM identified 17 Asian Muslims who planned to smash a jumbo jet into Los Angeles’s 73-story Library Tower. American officials thus stymied a potential 9/11 West.
Abbottabad sprang from the relentless work of interrogators in overseas rendition sites, agents in the field, and analysts indoors at the CIA and other agencies. Their contributions to the War on Terror began under Pres. George W. Bush and continue today. The SEALs and other GIs performed with peerless bravery. And President Obama neither chickened out nor micromanaged this task into failure. Instead, he valiantly signed Osama bin Laden’s death certificate.
Building on this triumph, President Obama should abandon his hostility to waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques. He should free U.S. intelligence officers to employ questioning tactics as tough as those who pledge to murder Americans by the thousands. Robustly collecting the dots should help connect the dots that lead from May Day’s successful battle to civilization’s final victory in the War on Terror. On that joyous occasion, Islamofascism will smolder beside Nazism upon the ash heap of history.
— Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.