And so does that mean it was justified?
Or does that mean it was “torture”?
The answer depends on whom you ask.
In November 2007, I asked:
Let’s assume the following hypothetical facts are true. U.S. officials have KSM in custody. They know he planned 9/11 and therefore have a solid basis to believe he has other deadly plots in the works. They try various noncoercive techniques to learn the details of those plots. Nothing works.
They then waterboard him for two and one half minutes.
During this session KSM feels panicky and unable to breathe. Even though he can breathe, he has the sensation that he is drowning. So he gives up information — reliable information — that stops a plot involving people flying planes into buildings.
My simple question is this: based on these hypothetical facts, was the waterboarding session worth it?
The post received 758 comments. For asking the question, I became an instant hero in the liberal blogosphere, where: one person deemed me a greater enemy to this country than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned 9/11; one person declared me unfit to be labeled a human; and another said that I am a monster, and wished that I die a painful death in a fire.*
(Always remember: in the minds of leftists, American’s real enemies aren’t the terrorists. The real enemies are conservatives.)
Of course, the hypothetical was based on previous reporting that the premise of my hypothetical — the foiling of the Library Tower plot — was true.** Nevertheless, one of the things I was repeatedly told was that the question had absolutely nothing to do with reality.
Fast forward to today’s piece in the Washington Post by Marc Thiessen, extensively quoting from memos recently released by the Obama administration:
The memo continues: “Before the CIA used enhanced techniques . . . KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, ‘Soon you will find out.’ ” Once the techniques were applied, “interrogations have led to specific, actionable intelligence, as well as a general increase in the amount of intelligence regarding al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
Specifically, interrogation with enhanced techniques “led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the ‘Second Wave,’ ‘to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into’ a building in Los Angeles.” KSM later acknowledged before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay that the target was the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast.
Thiessen goes on to explain that the foiling of the Library Tower plot is the tip of the intelligence iceberg. We gained a lot of valuable information from waterboarding KSM, and Thiessen explains why this is so.
Interestingly, our boy Andrew Sullivan says the very success of our techniques is what makes them “torture” — a silly, thoughtless definition characteristic of a silly, thoughtless man. Sully says that “to subject captives to such levels of physical or mental pain or suffering that they ‘have reached the limit of their ability to withhold [information] in the face of psychological and physical hardship'” is “as close to a definition of torture as you are likely to find.” Tom Maguire has great fun mocking this fundamentally unserious claptrap:
Ahh, so if the captive starts talking it’s torture. Helpful. My legal advice to his captors would be to clear the room if the captive clears his throat or otherwise appears to be about to speak.
Conversely, if I am hacking away with a chainsaw on some prisoner, I am quite sure I am guilty of torture, whether the poor fool cooperates or not, and regardless of this most excellent definition.
I happen to believe that waterboarding is, in fact, torture — although it’s certainly more mild than other forms that could be imagined. I believe this, not because it has worked, but because that’s what my common sense tells me.
But that same common sense tells me that if waterboarding sessions prevent thousands of people from dying, it was worth it. Maybe that’s why, according to Thiessen, “just as the memo begins to describe previously undisclosed details of what enhanced interrogations achieved, the page is almost entirely blacked out.”
But on a day when President Obama has announced that he has not ruled out prosecuting people who approved waterboarding and other enhanced techniques, it seems to me important to remember that, from what we know, they worked.
Isn’t that a pretty significant point?
UPDATE: Karl notes that KSM was waterboarded 5 times, and not 183, as the leftists are claiming. Their fuzzy math is debunked here.