The Corner

We’re Pagans!

Over at First Things, Joe Carter takes exception to my assertion that those who oppose enhanced interrogation are arguing from a position of radical pacifism — and accuses me of being . . . a pagan.  My goodness.

Carter says my arguments are “embarrassing” — yet his post is so filled with so many errors and misstatements it is hard to know where to begin. He asserts — while presenting absolutely no evidence to back his claim — that enhanced interrogation techniques employed by the CIA are torture; that they have been considered torture since the Spanish Inquisition; and that “the U.S government considered waterboarding to be torture when it was used on our soldiers in World War II.” All of this is false. In Courting Disaster, I devote an entire chapter to debunking these myths. They are widely and irresponsibly repeated, but they fall apart under even a cursory examination of the facts. I describe exactly how water torture was conducted during the Spanish Inquisition, how it was employed against our troops by the Japanese during World War II, how it was employed by the Khmer Rouge and other cruel regimes the critics cite — and show that these techniques bears no resemblance to waterboarding as practiced by the CIA.

Then Carter really blunders. He says waterboarding “would be considered torture if used on our servicemembers today.” Really? He seems oblivious to the fact that waterboarding is used on our servicemembers today — by their own government. Tens of thousands of American troops have been waterboarded during SERE training (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape).

Surely Carter is not arguing that we torture our own troops? This would be absurd. Yet if he accepts that we do not torture our troops, then he must accept that the act of waterboarding cannot be intrinsically evil. It might be morally right or morally wrong to employ it, depending on the circumstances — but it is not an absolute evil. And once he concedes this, then the moral question becomes: Under what circumstances, and with what safeguards and restraints, might waterboarding be justified?

These are topics where reasonable people can disagree — but Carter is not interested in reasonable debate.

He goes on to repeat the weak and tired arguments critics always use to wash their hands of the consequences of their opposition to coercive interrogation. He says “the evidence that waterboarding helped stop a number of terrorist attacks is debatable.” Again, he presents no evidence to back this claim — which is demonstrably wrong. The critics must make this argument, because the alternative is too horrible for them to contemplate — that the price of their position would be the death of thousands. But that would indeed have been the cost if we had followed their advice, and eschewed any and all coercive  interrogations.

In Courting Disaster, I lay out the evidence that these techniques were directly responsible for stopping specific terrorist attacks. Read it and judge for yourself. The fact is that virtually every impartial investigation into the efficacy of the CIA interrogation program has concluded that it produced intelligence that saved lives.

Carter then pulls out the tired argument, asserting that “waterboarding and other ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ are not the only means of extracting information from our enemies.” And he suggests — I kid you not — that we could have broken Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by offering him . . . sugar cookies. And he calls my arguments embarrassing?

He says sugar cookies were used in the “most successful interrogation of an al-Qaeda operative after 9/11.” In fact, the most successful interrogation of an al-Qaeda operative after 9/11 was the interrogation of KSM. Before enhanced techniques, when interrogators asked KSM about the next attack, he told them “soon you will know.” After, he became the most prolific detainee in U.S. custody, and provided information that led to the capture of dozens of terrorists operatives and the disruption of a number of planned attacks — including a plot to crash airplanes into Heathrow Airport and London’s financial district; a plot to blow up the U.S. consulate and Western residences in Karachi; and a plot to fly an airplane in the Library Tower in Los Angeles. If we followed Carter’s advice, there would likely be craters in the ground in London, Karachi, and Los Angeles to match the one at Ground Zero in New York.

Finally, Carter questions my credentials for even discussing these matters because I was just a “speechwriter.” Another big blunder. Unlike Carter, I was actually read in to the CIA program. Unlike Carter, I have seen the intelligence it produced. Unlike Carter, I have met and spoken with the actual interrogators who broke KSM and other terrorists. In other words, I know a heck of a lot more about this topic than he does.

The fact is, CIA interrogators are good and decent men who went to great lengths to ensure the safety of terrorists in their custody. We should be grateful to them for taking on the thankless and difficult job of interrogating captured terrorists. They elicited information that saved countless innocent lives. Like our soldiers in battle, they took on unpleasant responsibilities so that we could sleep safely in our beds. To call them torturers is not only wrong, it is ungrateful. They are not torturers; they are heroes. Their actions deserve to be defended not just on pragmatic grounds, but on moral grounds as well.

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