National Security & Defense

The CIA’s Gina Haspel Deserves America’s Gratitude

CIA director nominee Gina Haspel arrives for a meeting on Capitol Hill, May 7, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Haspel and the CIA confronted al-Qaeda after 9/11 and prevented fresh mass murders.

I have just two words for accused waterboarder and CIA-director nominee Gina Haspel:

Thank you.

“Enhanced interrogation” programs in general, and waterboarding in particular, generated the dots that CIA officers and other intelligence professionals connected in order to stop the deadly bloodshed of al-Qaeda.

Al-Who?

As the U.S. and its allies have hammered this vicious, militant-Islamic terrorist group into apparent oblivion, it’s easy to forget that al-Qaeda kept America and the rest of Civilization wide awake every night, asking, “What happens next?” Could Osama bin Laden and his cave-dwelling savages stage another September 11 massacre? After they murdered 2,996 people and wounded 7,356 others among the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93’s crash site in Shanksville, Pa., Americans fretted that al-Qaeda would return for more carnage — possibly even with chemical, biological, or atomic weapons.

As the ruins of the Twin Towers and the Defense Department’s headquarters smoldered for months, Americans and our leaders — from Capitol Hill to the White House — demanded that the butchers of September 11 be picked up, punished, and prevented from perpetrating fresh mayhem.

So, brave people like Gina Haspel got busy. The 33-year veteran CIA officer (whose U.S. Senate confirmation hearings begin this morning) and her foreign counterparts tracked down al-Qaeda members. Some were killed straight away. Good. Others were captured alive. Even better.

As the righteous desire for vengeance was stilled, intelligence personnel pumped these killers for information: Who were they? Who sent them? Who else did they know? What else did they have in the works?

Some al-Qaeda murderers who were caught spoke readily. Others did so after facing such disincentives to silence as hot or cold detention cells, tobacco smoke in their faces, sleep deprivation, loud music, and — according to one report — “a forced bath using a stiff brush.”

Others resisted, which required additional inducements for them to share their knowledge. This is where waterboarding came in.

Despite what the Left would like Americans to believe, the CIA and other U.S. authorities did not waterboard random Muslim men who were nabbed while strolling home from their local mosques. Nor was footage of their waterboarding hand delivered to the White House so that President G. W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney could enjoy it, along with soda and Jiffy Pop.

According to the CIA, a grand total of three al-Qaeda leaders were waterboarded: Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM). And how beautiful that they were. Those three, who most likely wanted you dead, sang like Grammy winners after interrogators held them down and poured water over their rag-covered faces — a procedure that produces neither injury nor permanent physical damage. What it does yield is invaluable information:

Zubaydah was an al-Qaeda operations specialist and aide to Osama bin Laden. He dummied up during questioning, but waterboarding loosened his lips. He then surrendered the names and whereabouts of USS Cole bomber al-Nashiri (17 Americans dead, 40 wounded), 9/11 conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and KSM — helping snare all three.

KSM masterminded 9/11. He also bragged, “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl in the City of Karachi, Pakistan.” Before his ultimately fatal kidnapping, Pearl was a well-regarded Wall Street Journal correspondent.

Interrogators initially got nowhere with KSM. He replied to their questions with Koranic verses. Eventually, he was waterboarded, reportedly for 90 seconds.

KSM “didn’t resist,” one CIA veteran explained in the August 13, 2007, issue of The New Yorker. “He sang right away. He cracked real quick.” Another CIA official told ABC News: “KSM lasted the longest under water-boarding, about a minute and a half, but once he broke, it never had to be used again.”

Among others, KSM ratted on Hambali, the organizer of the October 2002 Bali nightclub explosions. That attack killed seven Americans, 88 Australians, and 107 others, and injured 209 more. KSM outed Iyman Faris, who was caught plotting to use acetylene torches to sever the Brooklyn Bridge’s cables, so that the landmark would tumble into the East River. KSM gave up Yazid Sufaat. Page 151 of The 9/11 Commission Report elaborates: “Sufaat would spend several months attempting to cultivate anthrax for al Qaeda in a laboratory he helped set up near the Kandahar airport.”

KSM also pointed authorities to the 17-member Guraba Cell. These Malaysia-based Jemaah Islamiyah agents planned to commandeer jets and pilot them into Los Angeles’s 1,018-foot Library Tower (now called the U.S. Bank Tower). The goal: Roast the men and women inside the West Coast’s tallest skyscraper, in a de facto 9/11 West.

“The most important source of intelligence we had after 9/11 came from the interrogation of high-value detainees,” Robert Grenier, former chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer. He called KSM “the most valuable of the high-value detainees, because he had operational knowledge.”

As the Washington Post reported on January 25, 2017, “senior current and former CIA officials said the agency’s interrogation program, including the use of waterboarding, had produced actionable intelligence that among other things led to the identification of Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.”

Democrats now weep like widows over how terribly mean Haspel was to those poor, defenseless al-Qaeda volunteers.

Gina Haspel’s role in these priceless efforts is, by definition, ill-defined. Most of her work was clandestine and should remain so. News reports indicate that she ran four overseas CIA stations, managed covert operations, and closely watched Russia. If approved, Haspel will become the first CIA chief in 52 years to have climbed the ladder from, metaphorically, the mail room to the office of Director of Central Intelligence.

One might expect that Senate Democrats, reputedly the vanguard of “the Party of Women,” would help Haspel shatter the glass ceiling at the CIA, an historically male-dominated institution in an historically male-dominated profession. But Democrats are all too eager to lock arms and block this highly qualified and widely praised woman so that they can high-kick President Donald J. Trump in the teeth. So, high-kick the donkeys do. If that means that the first woman nominated to run the CIA never does so, then too bad for Gina.

Democrats now weep like widows over how terribly mean Haspel was to those poor, defenseless al-Qaeda volunteers. But soon after the September 11 slaughter, Democrats’ eyes were drier than Dubai. Rather than the retroactive mercy that they now show al-Qaeda, these very same Democrats back then wanted to squeeze these Islamofascist scum until they squealed.

As early as September 2002, top congressional leaders from both parties and chambers, were given “graphic and detailed” briefings on the CIA’s interrogation techniques — including waterboarding, the Washington Post reported on December 9, 2007. Participants included House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. During one key update, according to the Post, “No objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder.”

“With one known exception,” the Post added, “no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter.” Then-representative Jane Harman (D., Calif.) advised caution. Otherwise, the idea was to keep calm and waterboard on.

“Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing,” Porter Goss, who was then-chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and later the director of Central Intelligence (2004 to 2006), told the Post. “And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.”

One official at these congressional briefings recalled that “there was no objecting, no hand-wringing. The attitude was, ‘We don’t care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.’”

Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s then-director of clandestine services, told Chris Wallace about these Capitol Hill sit-downs on the December 14, 2014, edition of Fox News Sunday. Rodriguez said that members of Congress told him: “You got to go out and use the authorities that you’re given to protect America.’. . . So, all of these people knew exactly what we were doing.” Rodriguez estimated that congressional leaders attended at least 40 briefings about these interrogations between 2002 and 2009.

None other than Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) said in May 2002, that when it came to smashing al-Qaeda: “We have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”

On waterboarding, Democrats have gone from pom poms yesterday to brickbats today. Such naked hypocrisy — fueled by an unbridled, white-hot hatred for President Trump, America’s national security be damned — leaves Democrats in an increasingly typical state of disgrace.

On the morning of September 11, I witnessed a low-flying American Airlines jet roar over my balcony in Manhattan’s East Village. Within hours, I learned that the man at the controls was not a star-crossed aviator struggling to keep his aircraft aloft. Rather it was Mohamed Atta guiding a missile full of innocent travelers into a skyscraper full of innocent workers.

That was as close an encounter with militant Islam as I hope ever to experience. If so, I — like 325 million Americans — will be grateful to Gina Haspel.

Deroy Murdock — Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online.

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