Stevens: “I Am Not Sorry the CIA Waterboarded”

Dick Cheney says he would “do it again in a minute.” He’s right.

By BRET STEPHENS, WSJ

waterboardingI am not sorry Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational mastermind of 9/11, was waterboarded 183 times. KSM also murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl in 2002. He boasted about it: “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew,” he said after his capture.

I am sorry KSM remains alive nearly 12 years after his capture. He has been let off far too lightly. As for his waterboarding, it never would have happened if he had been truthful with his captors. It stopped as soon as he became cooperative. As far as I’m concerned, he waterboarded himself.

I am not sorry the CIA went to the edge of the law in the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent further mass-casualty attacks on the U.S. I am not sorry that going to the edge meant, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein put it in 2002, doing “some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.” I don’t suppose she was talking about removing our shoes at airport security.

I am sorry we weren’t willing to do those “things” before 3,000 people had their lives unnaturally ended on Sept. 11, 2001.

I am not sorry Osama bin Laden died by an American bullet. John Brennan , the CIA director, delivered a master class in rhetorical obfuscation masquerading as epistemology when he waffled last week about the quality of intelligence yielded by the interrogations of KSM and other high-value detainees. But several former directors and deputy directors of the CIA have all attested to the link between KSM’s interrogation and the identification of bin Laden’s courier.

I am sorry that the Feinstein Report, which failed to interview those directors and thus has the credibility of a Rolling Stone article, seeks to deny this. Maybe Sabrina Rubin Erdely, author of the discredited University of Virginia gang-rape story and a pro at failing to interview key witnesses, will find a new career in Sen. Feinstein’s office.

I am not sorry that President Obama has ordered drone strikes on hundreds of terrorist suspects hiding in Pakistan, Yemen and other places. I am not sorry he has done so despite the fact that the strikes inevitably have killed hundreds and perhaps thousands of their associates, many of whom were either innocent of wrongdoing or had committed no crime deserving of death from 30,000 feet. This is the nature of war.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, in an undated photo. ENLARGE
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, in an undated photo. ASSOCIATED PRESS
I am sorry that we are now having a national convulsion over the fact that the CIA captured, detained, interrogated and in at least two cases accidentally killed two detainees. This is undoubtedly wrong and merits apology and compensation. But how this is any worse than what Mr. Obama routinely brags about doing with drones is beyond me.

I am not sorry that Dick Cheney told NBC’s Chuck Todd this Sunday that, in the matter of enhanced interrogation techniques, he would “do it again in a minute.” The former vice president seems to feel none of the need for the easy moral preening that is the characteristic political reflex of our age.

I am sorry that Mr. Cheney, and every other supporter of enhanced interrogation techniques, has to defend the practices as if they were torture. They are not. Waterboarding is part of the military’s standard course in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE. Tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen have gone through it. To describe this as “torture” is to strip the word of its meaning.

I am not sorry that Google makes it easy to recall what the political class had to say about KSM in the immediate aftermath of his capture. Here is a noteworthy exchange between Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on March 2, 2003:

Blitzer: “There has been speculation, Sen. Rockefeller, in the press that U.S. authorities, given the restrictions on torture, might hand over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his colleagues to a third country, a friendly Arab state, Jordan, Egypt, some country like that, where the restrictions against torture are not in existence.”

Rockefeller: “I don’t know that. I can’t comment on that. And if I did know it, I wouldn’t comment on it. [Laughter.] But I wouldn’t rule it out. I wouldn’t take anything off the table where he is concerned, because this is the man who has killed hundreds and hundreds of Americans over the last 10 years.”

I am sorry that Sen. Rockefeller saw nothing amiss with the idea of handing over KSM to the Cairo Cattle-Prod Crew. This is rightly known as torture-by-proxy. It is wrong.

I am not sorry that Sen. Feinstein went ahead and released her report. In its partisanship, its certitudes, its omissions of reportage and recommendation, and its attempt to seem authoritative merely by being verbose, it has reopened a necessary debate that was nearly closed—and nearly lost. Eventually we will have another mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil. We’ll need better than Ms. Feinstein’s insipid shibboleths to answer it.

And for that, I am sorry—for all of us.

Write to bstephens@wsj.com

December 17, 2014 | 6 Comments »

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6 Comments / 6 Comments

  1. I underwent a 2 week escape and evasion course where part of the course was be held as a POW.

    Part of the military training we received in some of the special courses we had to undergo was withstanding both physical and mental torture in the event we were captured. They tried to make it as realistic as possible and we had two weeks of absolute hell because they really laid it on us.

    One was putting us in a 100 gallon mental drum with the lid closed and banging on it for hours. We had our versions of water-boarding and a variation of Russian Roulette.

    Everybody has an Achilles heel and professionals know how to find it. I know Israel employs variations of torture and they all break and it saves lives.

    I have seen guys blown to pieces and you needed a magnifying glass to find most of the remains afterwards some blown a good distance away. I have seen babies women children and the elderly shot and blown to pieces or burned to death.

    What’s all this faux concern over using so called torture by those who close their eye’s and or wink at consequences of war ie, many dead sometimes innocent victims???

    What kind of hypocrisy and false morality are they spinning here???? It’s part of war and wars are no picnic!!!

  2. Part of the military training we received in some of the special courses we had to undergo was withstanding both physical and mental torture in the event we were captured. They tried to make it as realistic as possible and we had two weeks of absolute hell because they really laid it on us.

    One was putting us in a 100 gallon mental drum with the lid closed and banging on it for hours. We had our versions of water-boarding and a variation of Russian Roulette.

    Everybody has an Achilles heel and professionals know how to find it. I know Israel employs variations of torture and they all break and it saves lives.

    I have seen guys blown to pieces and you needed a magnifying glass to find most of the remains afterwards some blown a good distance away. I have seen babies women children and the elderly shot and blown to pieces or burned to death.

    What’s all this faux concern over using so called torture by those who close their eye’s and or wink at consequences of war ie, many dead sometimes innocent victims???

    What kind of hypocrisy and false morality are they spinning here???? It’s part of war and wars are no picnic!!!

  3. 1, Torture works – it always worked – it worked in WW2 when allied agents carried suicide pills. It only didn’t work” in the namby pamby minds of the American Public in the spoiled brat age post WW2.
    ..
    2. World wide torture is used extensively and horrifically by many foreign powers – Russia , China Latin American Countries, etc etc . The American public is completely ignorant of this – they live in a la la fantasy world their minds massaged by “The View” and Jon Stewart into mush.
    3. I find the 24/7 assault of the propaganda MSM on my personal space everywhere I go to be a form of agonizing unendurable torture. The White House needs to do a report on the propaganda torture of the American public by the corporate MSM and their owners in the power elite.

  4. There was an editorial I read, I believe at the Daily Beast, that pondered why there hasn’t been more virulent Muslim objection to the findings of the Democratic Senate EIT Report. It’s thesis was that the Arab world doesn’t really find torture in and of itself all that objectionable, especially since waterboarding was limited to a few high-value targets and that it pales in comparison to the torture that Arab regimes impose on their own populations.

    I think that the hooplah over the dangers of releasing the report demonstrates a uniquely American deficiency in its understanding of the Arab world – the Arabs see torture as fair game but cartoons of Mohammad as acts of war.