Dancing around the obvious

The Washington Post continues its now-daily quest to persuade its readers that, in the words of today’s front-page headline, the “effectiveness of harsh questioning is unclear.” This time, the Post considers the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The Post concedes, as it must, that after the CIA turned to enhanced interrogation tactics, KSM started talking and has barely stopped since. But the Post suggests that harsh interrogation might have been unnecessary because the traditional approach to interrogation wasn’t used for long enough.

The Post marshals no evidence to support its implausible speculation. It doesn’t tell how long it was before the CIA shifted to harsher tactics, though it’s clear from the story that this did occur within a month. Nor does the Post say what signs of progress (if any) there were before the harsher tactics were employed.

The CIA reported (and the Post does not dispute) that KSM would not answer questions about planned future attacks except to say “soon you will see.” There is no basis for concluding that, without a change in interrogation tactics, KSM’s answer would have changed.

Perhaps the Obama administration, in a similar position, will keep using tactics that aren’t working while hoping that no attacks materialize “soon.” Fortunately, the Bush administration acted more responsibly.

The Post then proceeds to its next line of defense, that the information obtained from KSM wasn’t all that helpful. The Post concedes that, under the harsh interrogation to which he was subjected, KSM disclosed that he had planned to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliners into a building in Los Angeles. But, says the Post, “a number of officials” say this wouldn’t have worked given the changes that had been made in airport security.

Perhaps the Obama administration, in a similar position, will stop short of obtaining information about potentially deadly attacks on our soil under the theory that, whatever those plots might be, they probably won’t work. Fortunately, the Bush administration acted more responsibly.

The Post also acknowledges that, under harsh interrogation, KSM (or maybe Abu Zubaida, it’s not clear which) gave up information that led to the break-up of an al Qaeda cell in Indonesia and the capture of several suspects. The Post buries this “undoubted success” deep in its story. Perhaps it falls under the “insignificant plot doctrine.”

The lines of the “torture” debate are clear. The left knows that most Americans believe that tactics like waterboarding should be used if there is good reason to believe they are effective. Thus, the left can’t rest on a “moral absolutist” position, but instead must attack the efficacy of harsh interrogation.

But it’s clear that such interrogation yielded reliable information that led us to terrorists and prevented their plots. So the left must resort to dancing: some of the information was not reliable; if we had just stayed with traditional tactics a little longer we would have gotten the same information; the plots we found out about weren’t significant; if significant, the plots wouldn’t have worked. The idea is to raise the bar to the point that defenders of enhanced interrogation must show with 100 percent certainty that without such interrogation our enemies would have successfully carried out a massive strike.

Fortunately, this sort of “lawyering” isn’t likely to impress the American public. Whatever else they may think about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Americans are grateful that they focused single-mindedly and successfully on keeping the homeland safe after 9/11.


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