I caught a few minutes of President Bush’s speech over the lunch hour. It was powerful stuff. He laid out some of the history of our captures of key al Qaeda leaders, and how tough questioning of those individuals allowed us to catch more of them, and break up plots. The transcript of the speech is here. A few key excerpts:
Zubaydah told us that Al Qaeda operatives were planning to launch an attack in the United States and provided physical descriptions of the operatives and information on their general location. Based on the information he provided, the operatives were detained; one, while traveling to the United States.
We knew that Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives. But he stopped talking.
As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so, the CIA used an alternative set of procedures.
These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively, and determined them to be lawful.
I cannot describe the specific methods used. I think you understand why. If I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough and they were safe and lawful and necessary.
Zubaydah was questioned using these procedures, and soon he began to provide information on key Al Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September the 11th.
For example, Zubaydah identified one of KSM’s accomplices in the 9/11 attacks, a terrorist named Ramzi Binalshibh. The information Zubaydah provided helped lead to the capture of Binalshibh. And together these two terrorists provided information that helped in the planning and execution of the operation that captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Once in our custody, KSM was questioned by the CIA using these procedures. And he soon provided information that helped us stop another planned attack on the United States. ***
After Hambali’s arrest, KSM was questioned again. He identified Hambali’s brother as the leader of a JI cell and Hambali’s conduit for communications with al Qaeda. Hambali’s brother was soon captured in Pakistan, and in turn led us to a cell of 17 Southeast Asian JI operatives. When confronted with the news that his terror cell had been broken up, Hambali admitted that the operatives were being groomed at KSM’s request for attacks inside the United States, probably using airplanes. During questioning, KSM also provided many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans.
For example, he described the design of planned attacks on buildings inside the United States and how operatives were directed to carry them out. He told us the operatives had been instructed to ensure that the explosives went off at a point that was high enough to prevent the people trapped above from escaping out the windows. KSM also provided vital information on al Qaeda’s efforts to obtain biological weapons. During questioning, KSM admitted that he had met three individuals involved in al Qaeda’s efforts to produce anthrax, a deadly biological agent, and he identified one of the individuals as a terrorist named Yazeed. ***
These are some of the plots that have been stopped because of the information of this vital program.
Terrorists held in CIA custody have also provided information that helped stop the planned strike on U.S. Marines at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. They were going to use an explosive-laden water tanker. They’ve helped stop a planned attack on U.S. — on the U.S. consulate in Karachi using car bombs and motorcycle bombs. And they helped stop a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow or the Canary Wharf in London.
We’re getting vital information necessary to do our jobs, and that’s protect the American people and our allies.
Information from terrorists in CIA custody has played a role in the capture or questioning of nearly every senior al Qaeda member or associate detained by the U.S. and its allies since this program began.
By providing everything from initial leads to photo identifications, to precise locations of where terrorists were hiding, this program has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they were able to kill.
Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland. By giving us information about terrorist plans we could not get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives.
This program has been subject to multiple legal reviews by the Department of Justice and CIA lawyers. They’ve determined it complied with our laws.
There is lots more, but you get the drift. President Bush delivered a ringing and powerfully effective endorsement of the CIA’s handling of high-ranking al Qaeda operatives.
That’s not the way you’re going to read it in the newspapers, though. The Associated Press headlines: “Bush Acknowledges Secret CIA Prisons.” The AP’s account begins:
President Bush on Wednesday acknowledged previously secret CIA prisons around the world and said 14 high-value terrorism suspects — including the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks — have been transferred from the system to Guantanamo Bay for trials.
This is an absurd lede. President Bush said that a small number of high-value detainees “have been held and questioned outside the United States.” This is not exactly a news flash. We knew that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed et al. were not at Guantanamo, and no one ever imagined that they were inside the U.S. The fact that this handful of top-level terrorists was being held by the CIA, somewhere outside the U.S., has been known and widely reported for years. President Bush declined to add anything to what has already been reported many times:
Many specifics of this program, including where these detainees have been held and the details of their confinement, cannot be divulged. Doing so would provide our enemies with information they could use to take retribution against our allies and harm our country.
So the AP’s headline and lead paragraph, suggesting that the President made some sort of guilty admission, are misleading at best. The President’s endorsement of the CIA’s program was aggressive and effective, but few Americans will learn about it beyond the handful who watched the speech as it was delivered.
The real news that came out of the speech was that the 14 high-ranking terrorists now in CIA custody will be transferred to Guantanamo for criminal prosecution, and that the administration is asking Congress to pass comprehensive legislation authorizing military tribunals and protecting American servicemen and CIA employees from prosecution or lawsuits arising out of their interrogations of captured terrorists.
This is, in large part, a response to the unfortunate Hamdan decision. From a political standpoint, though, the Left won’t be happy about the return of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Zubaydah, et al. to the front pages; nor will Democrats in Congress relish having to vote on a vital issue of national security between now and November.