Politics & Policy

Lifesaving Device

Waterboarding should remain in America's interrogation toolbox.

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.”

Among others, Zubaydah identified:

‐ Omar al-Faruq, an agent of Jemaah Islamiya, al-Qaeda’s Indonesian branch. Information he provided caused U.S. officials to raise America’s threat level from Elevated to High in September 2002.

Rahim al-Nashiri, al-Qaeda’s Arabian Peninsula operations chief, trained terrorists in Afghanistan and led al-Qaeda’s October 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen. That attack killed 17 American sailors and injured 40 others. On October 6, 2002, al-Nashiri’s men bombed the French tanker MV Limburg, killing a Bulgarian sailor and spilling 90,000 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Aden.

Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key 9/11 organizer, studied with hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah in Hamburg, Germany. While he tried and failed to join his comrades after they moved to America, he was a liaison between al-Qaeda leaders and Atta, and provided several hijackers funds and travel arrangements. When arrested in Karachi, Pakistan in September 2002, bin al-Shibh already had recruited four new hijackers to smack jets into London’s Heathrow Airport.

Zubaydah’s and bin al-Shibh’s confessions led Americans to 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. After his March 2003 arrest in Pakistan, the self-described “head of the al-Qaeda Military Committee” stayed mum for months. But after just 90 seconds of waterboarding, KSM started to sing. He helped U.S. officials find or prosecute at least six major terrorists, including:

Hambali, the Muslim fanatic who slaughtered 202 innocent vacationers in two Bali nightclubs.

Iyman Faris, convicted of plotting to cut the Brooklyn Bridge’s cables with torches so it would tumble into the East River.

Yazid Sufaat, a 9/11 conspirator. Page 151 of The 9-11 Commission Report explains: “Sufaat would spend several months attempting to cultivate anthrax for al Qaeda in a laboratory he helped set up near the Kandahar airport.”

Kiriakou’s attitude today seems to be, as FrontPageMag.com’s Jacob Laksin, puts it: “Waterboarding works. So, let’s stop using it.”

“I think that waterboarding is probably something that we shouldn’t be in the business of doing,” Kiriakou said. But then he added: “What happens if we don’t waterboard a person, and we don’t get that nugget of information? I would have trouble forgiving myself.”

For all the hair pulling over waterboarding today, the Washington Post explained December 9 that top Senate and House leaders, including then-House Democratic chief Nancy Pelosi of California, were briefed on CIA interrogation tactics — among them: waterboarding. With the sole, reported exception of Rep. Jane Harman (D., Calif.), key Republicans and Democrats were enthused, or at least quiescent, about all of this.

“Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing,” said Porter Goss, former House intelligence chairman and then Director of Central Intelligence from 2004 to 2006. “And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.”

One American official at a September 2002 waterboarding discussion recalls that Republican and Democratic congressional leaders attended. “But there was no objecting, no hand wringing.” On the contrary, the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen reported, “The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough.”

The same liberals and Democrats convulsing over waterboarding today barely twitched when their deity, William Jefferson Clinton, addressed this matter. As Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz recalled in the October 17, 2006, Los Angeles Times, Clinton would get tough with terror suspects, provided one’s paperwork is in order. As President Clinton told National Public Radio last year:

Let’s take the best case, OK. You picked up someone you know is the No. 2 aide to Osama bin Laden. And you know they have an operation planned for the United States or some European capital in the next three days. And you know this guy knows it. Right, that’s the clearest example. And you think you can only get it out of this guy by shooting him full of some drugs or water-boarding him or otherwise working him over…

If they really believe the time comes when the only way they can get a reliable piece of information is to beat it out of someone or put a drug in their body to talk it out of ’em, then they can present it to the Foreign Intelligence Court, or some other court, just under the same circumstances we do with wiretaps. Post facto.

As September 11 fades from view, Democrats have elevated Bush hatred into a religion that trumps national security. Sadder still, some normally reasonable Republicans — like senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina — naively attack waterboarding on the theory that it is unnecessary and that coping with the public-relations challenge of explaining its importance to the world is a more grave threat than seeing Americans dismembered in terror attacks that waterboarding could help stop.

McCain suggested in CNN/YouTube’s November 28 debate that the interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual “are humane and yet effective,” and nothing else is necessary. Humane? Yes. Effective? Not always. (Pages 5-21 to 5-23 of the Manual discusses prohibited interrogation methods.)

With all due respect and appreciation for what McCain endured as a P.O.W., a 35-second interval of discomfort for someone who possesses information on active conspiracies to murder Americans is hugely different from months or years of being hung from a wall for trying to protect South Vietnam from Communism. McCain should understand this, but does not. What the Viet Cong did to him was abominable. What America did to Zubaydah, KSM, and an unidentified third terrorist leader was a necessary, rare, and non-injurious tactic for preserving human freedom and protecting the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent American civilians. Unlike McCain, Zubaydah and KSM survived this treatment without scars or damaged joints. Not a bad trade-off.

McCain contends that waterboarding is unreliable, since detainees will say anything to make it stop. Yes, they will say anything. As Zubaydah and KSM prove, they even will tell the truth. The veracity of such statements easily can be verified by following leads that such terrorists offer. If other terrorists pop up in spots where detainees said to look for them, then waterboarding once again will have worked.

McCain also argues that America must reject waterboarding, lest our enemies waterboard U.S. GIs. This notion gets all wet when one realizes how difficult it is to waterboard someone who Islamofascists already have beheaded.

Waterboarding should remain in America’s interrogation toolbox. The alternative is to let these assassins stay tight-lipped while the civilized world sits around and waits for the bombs to rip. This is exactly what happened on December 11. While official Washington again burst into tears over waterboarding and fretted over the CIA’s foolishly erased interrogation tapes, al-Qaeda in Islamic North Africa killed 37 in twin bombings in Algeria. Al-Qaeda murdered 17 at a target it dubbed “the international infidels den” — the Algiers office of a New York-based peace organization called the United Nations.

U.S. and allied soldiers and spies could arrest top terrorists aware of conspiracies as bad as or worse than the Special Day of Infidel Doom imagined above. If America is serious about preventing these evil, vicious bastards from murdering hundreds or thousands of us and our friends — as they already have and promise to do — waterboarding must remain a weapon this nation proudly wields to defend itself and its allies. If not, those who weep about waterboarding information-rich mass murderers like Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheik Mohammed should volunteer to collect the body parts of American citizens blasted to bits because we flinched from this modest technique to squeeze vital operational intelligence from captured Islamic butchers.

– Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor, a contributor to National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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