Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Two Instructive Stories

for those who want to attack the Bush administration's policies wholesale and applaud Obama for throwing them overboard without any thought as to which might be valuable to keep.

First, there is this story, on American efforts to rehabilitate captured Iraqi terrorists. It illustrates an important point. The Bush administration has been learning on the fly. That's completely unavoidable, because there has never been a war like this one before. In previous wars, we knew who the enemy were and simply jailed them until the fighting stopped. In this war, we are hard-pressed to differentiate between hardened terrorists and the gullible fool grabbed off of a street corner. Further, in this war, the fighting may never stop. All the lessons learned about POW's in previous wars have to be adapted to the new situation. The president's critics have the ability of leisure and hindsight to in criticizing decisions made in the moment.

And secondly, this story.
In the summer of 2006, I was asked to prepare a speech revealing the details of the CIA program. I sat down with the people who actually ran the program—the people responsible for breaking up the plots—and, over the course of several months, we painstakingly reconstructed how the questioning of these terrorists led to the disruption of plots. Let me give some details on just one example—the West Coast plot.
A few months after 9/11, a terrorist named Abu Zubaydah was captured. He was a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and ran a camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers had trained. And he helped al Qaeda leaders escape from Afghanistan after the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, including the future leader of al Qaeda's Iraqi branch, Abu Mussab al Zarqawi.
Zubaydah was captured in a gun battle and severely injured. The CIA arranged medical care, saving his life. After he recovered, Zubaydah provided what he thought was nominal information—including that KSM's alias was "Muktar," something our intelligence community did not know. But he soon ceased all cooperation. It was clear to his interrogators that he had received interrogation resistance training, and the traditional methods were not working. So the CIA employed alternative interrogation techniques. And Zubaydah started talking.
He provided information that led to the capture of Ramzi bin al Shibh—one of the key plotters of the 9/11 attacks and a close associated of KSM. Bin al Shibh was the mastermind behind a plot for a follow-on attack to hijack airplanes in Europe, and fly them into Heathrow airport. Now he was off the street and the Heathrow plot was setback.
Together, bin al Shibh and Zubaydah provided information that led to the capture of KSM.
Once in custody, KSM refused to cooperate, until enhanced interrogation techniques—including waterboarding—were used. Then he began to talk.
He gave us information about another terrorist in CIA custody named Majid Khan. KSM told us that Khan had been tasked to deliver $50,000 to a Southeast Asian terrorist named Zubair—an operative with the terrorist network Jemmah Islamiyah, or JI.
Confronted with this information, Khan confirmed KSM's account and gave us information that led to the capture of Zubair.
Zubair then provided information that led to the capture of a JI terrorist leader named HambaliKSM's partner in developing the West Coast plot. Their strategy was to used Southeast Asian operatives, since KSM knew we would be on the lookout for Arab men.
Told of Hambali's capture, KSM identified Hambali's brother "Gun Gun" as his successor and provided information that led to his capture.
Hambali's brother then gave us information that led us to a cell of 17 JI operatives that were going to carry out the West Coast plot.
First of all, stories like this fly in the face of the silly argument that coercion never works. In some cases it may not. It's definitely a blunt and ugly tool. But in some cases, it is the best tool for getting information. Now, if you want to argue that waterboarding KSM for 2 1/2 minutes is torture, and such an ugly form of torture that not doing so is worth the price that would have been paid had these plots gone forward, fine. Make that case. But the new president isn't waiting to hear it. He's decided to chuck it all overboard without allowing the intelligence community to make a defense for keeping some or all of the programs that have allowed such intelligence successes to occur.