"President George W. Bush kept us safe from further terrorist
attacks." Few presidential claims have been less persuasive to the public
than that. Yet after Sept. 11, most Americans thought, "It's not a question
of whether, but when." We would have been grateful if we had known at the
time that there would be no further attacks while Bush was president.
However, as time passed, fewer and fewer believed that Bush's
specific judgments and actions were keeping us safe. Most probably assumed
our deliverance from a second attack on our soil was attributable to some
combination of blind luck and the vigilant work of thousands of our security
workers. And, of course, without both of those factors, we would not have
avoided danger so far.
But as of last Saturday, few reasonable people are able to deny
that in addition to luck and the vigilance of security professionals, if it
had not been for the specific policy judgments and actions of Bush and his
vice president, Dick Cheney, America would have been hit by more Islamist
terror attacks on our soil. Up until Saturday, the mainstream media and most
of the Democratic Party successfully had asserted that waterboarding and
other harsh interrogation methods were ineffective, as well as immoral.
But Saturday, the liberal Washington Post commendably did its
duty as the paper of record in Washington by running a major, above-the-fold
front-page lead story described thus by the new bible of Washington
politics, Politico: "Post story bolsters Cheney."
"The Washington Post leads today with an extraordinary story
cutting against the conclusions of a series of recent government and media
reports to cast as straight news with a few hedges and qualifications
that waterboarding and sleep deprivation worked like a charm to turn (Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed) from an enemy into an 'asset.'"
The Washington Post described "the transformation of the man
known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the
United States into what the CIA called its 'preeminent source' on
(al-Qaida). This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated
drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation
Before the waterboarding and sleep deprivation, he gave no
useful information. After such nasty techniques, he gave information that
led to (among many other invaluable terror-stopping pieces of information)
the arrest of Iyman Faris, an al-Qaida-trained sleeper agent who had been
dispatched to the United States by KSM to plot attacks on landmarks in the
New York area, including the Brooklyn Bridge.
And note that the Post story was presented by the anti-war
national reporting section of the paper not the more balanced editorial
page, which had been more supportive of Bush's war policies in general.
It is strongly suspected that soon we will see released more CIA
documents including actual interrogation logs and at least one document
from the CIA's Directorate of Operations that will provide further direct
evidence of the high utility of information gained from waterboarding and
sleep deprivation techniques. (Hat tip for foregoing confirming information
to Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of
Of course, we will go on debating whether such interrogation
techniques are moral and legal or not. But with the authoritative reporting
of The Washington Post's confirming the implications of released documents
and the powerful background guidance from many people in the intelligence
community, it is no longer credible for opponents of such techniques to
claim that such specific techniques didn't, in specific events, lead to
information that thwarted specific terrorist attacks.
This is not merely a matter of backward-looking vindication for
some of us. Much, much more importantly, it will shape current and future
policy debate and perhaps save thousands or millions of American lives.
While moral questions may lead some to continue to reject the use of such
nasty methods, they no longer can cloud the debate with the suggestion that
"there is no proof that it even works."
Opponents including, of course, the current administration
will be forced to make the unambiguous argument that they believe even
though they concede that the methods may work to prevent an attack that
it is morally preferable to let perhaps hundreds of thousands of Americans
be killed by radical Islamist terrorists than to apply such interrogation
methods to a known terrorist.
Even more broadly, the lesson from Bush and Cheney's decision to
use such techniques is that usually, man has it in his power to affect human
events by specific judgments and actions. For a government to believe
fatalistically that we are impotent to shape large events can itself be a
moral failing. In the 1930s, the British government and the public convinced
themselves that there was no defense to bombing that would wipe out cities
in just a few days. "The bomber will always get through," lamented the
passive prime minister, Stanley Baldwin. As a result, they failed to build
enough fighters and train enough pilots. Then the Nazis came and they
eventually were stopped in the air, but not before scores of thousands of
British needlessly were killed because of insufficient practical
After Sept. 11, the Bush administration ordered the nasty
techniques that saved thousands of Americans from sudden, hideous death. Now
that policy has been rescinded. Every effect has a cause.