The New York Times is more concerned about the rights of al-Qaeda terrorists than one of the most important Islamic inspirations of the global jihad movement, Sayyed Imam Al-Shari. The latter has directed his outrage against al-Qaeda’s leaders for carrying out the 9/11 attacks in the first place and the backlash that it caused against the Muslim people. They "ignited strife that found its way into every home," Sayyed said, "and they were the cause of the imprisonment of thousands of Muslims in the prisons of various countries. They bear the responsibility for all of this." 1 As far as Sayyed was concerned, whatever harsh fate awaited the al-Qaeda leaders was entirely of their own making.
By contrast, the New York Times has continued to focus its outrage against President Bush for the harsh interrogation techniques such as water boarding used on perhaps three al-Qaeda prisoners to extract life-saving information. The New York Times rarely, if ever, puts the primary moral responsibility on the terrorists themselves for precipitating the chain of events leading to the Bush administration’s harsh reprisals. In an editorial published last Friday entitled "Notes from the Global War on Terror," for example, the Times condemned the Bush administration for turning "intelligence agents and uniformed soldiers into torturers at outlaw prisons."
In the immediate wake of 9/11, most Americans understood clearly who the enemy was and were determined to crush them. Even Nancy Pelosi, who along with other Congressional leaders was briefed in detail back in 2002 on the CIA’s aggressive interrogation techniques used against the inhuman monsters who authored the 9/11 massacre, did not raise a peep. With the embers of that day still burning in the collective consciousness of the country, no Congressional leader of either party would have dared question the CIA’s tactics to prevent a repeat of that horrific atrocity.
Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein (no relation) wrote recently in a blog that Americans were not thinking clearly during the months following 9/11: "There was fear that we would be attacked again by terrorists, and on a regular basis. Few were thinking clearly about the nature of the threat and how to deal with it."
My namesake had it completely wrong. We were thinking very clearly back then. We wanted our intelligence agencies to do whatever was necessary to stop the terrorists before they struck again. Since then we have allowed the passage of time and the absence of any new attack on our homeland to lull us into a sense of false security.
One of the al-Qaeda leaders captured shortly after 9/11 and reportedly subjected to water boarding was Abu Zubaydah. This suffering guest of the CIA was a member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle, who was in the midst of devising more terrorist attacks to follow al-Qaeda’s 9/11 success when he was captured. He was allegedly behind the successful attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000, the foiled "millennium plot" to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport, and a planned attack on the American embassy in Paris. He also advised Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber arrested on board a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001.
According to a New York Times report in 2002, Zubaydah was anything but a cooperative witness while facing more traditional, non-coercive interrogation. He had mocked his interrogators and fed them false information.2
Then something changed. Zubaydah began to tell the truth about more terrorist attacks against our country that were in advanced planning stages. He also provided vital information about the identity of one of the central planners of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who in turn was captured and treated to the same CIA ‘hospitality’ as Zubaydah was accorded.
What happened? The CIA evidently stepped up the pressure, including limited use of waterboarding. Some members of Congress knew what the CIA was doing after receiving classified briefings, although they now feign shock that America could have ever used such methods. It took just 35 seconds of water boarding to turn Zubaydah into a water spout of information, which has helped save innocent lives. Khalid Mohammed reportedly endured two minutes of water boarding before he cracked, providing more life-saving intelligence.
So, what exactly are the moral values that are supposedly being compromised here? The human rights extremists believe that the ends never justify the means. They believe that if the terrorist leaders are not willing to tell us what they know out of the goodness of their own hearts, they should simply be left alone. Thus, those concerned more about the terrorists’ "rights" than innocent Americans’ lives have become unwitting accomplices to the most extreme violators of human rights on the face of the earth. They would have been willing to let thousands more innocent Americans die in other terrorist attacks rather than subject a few al-Qaeda ringleaders to the level of temporary (and not life-threatening) suffering necessary to wring the truth out of them in time to stop future attacks. Fortunately, the Bush administration and the CIA followed the right moral path and carried out their duty to protect the American people.
The fact that there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil for more than six years was not a result of Islamist jihadists suddenly deciding to embrace non-violence. They have been busy sowing violence since 9/11 in Europe, Asia, and Africa, killing innocent men, women, and children with abandon. The most recent brutal attack occurred just last week in Algeria, killing at least 17 UN workers and many Algerians. As Secretary General Ban Ki Moon declared, "This was an attack not only against the United Nations, not only against Algerians, but against humankind itself…Those who target innocent civilians in this way commit an unspeakable crime."
But no such attack has occurred on our own soil since 9/11. It is indeed very easy to demonize a president’s actions when looking at them through a rearview mirror and imposing a holier-than-thou attitude. President Truman, for example, has faced criticism from some commentators in recent years for his decision to authorize the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed more than 100,000 Japanese. The view of some human rights advocates is that Truman committed war crimes worthy of prosecution under the standards applied against the Nazis at Nuremberg.3 But Truman authorized the bombings only as a last resort, because the Japanese rulers refused to surrender. He weighed and rejected the alternative of losing as many as 250,000 American lives if he decided on an invasion of Japan to end the war rather than the bombings:
We were approaching an experiment with the atom explosion. I was informed that event would take place within a possible thirty days. I then suggested that after that experimental test of the fission of the atom, that we give Japan a chance to stop the war by a surrender. That plan was followed. Japan refused to surrender and the bomb was dropped on two targets after which event the surrender took place.4
Likewise, Zubaydah and Khalid Mohammed brought their suffering in captivity upon themselves by participating in terrorism and refusing to tell the truth to their captors about future terrorist plots.
If Congress now wants to legislate against coercive interrogation techniques and risk the loss of more American lives, then it should do so. Until then, it has no standing to complain about what its leaders sanctioned at a time when concern about preventing another 9/11 was paramount. As for the CIA’s videos of their interrogations that were destroyed, the Department of Justice and ultimately the courts can consider whether any crime was committed. Congressional investigations are, to say the very least, premature.
The most compelling reason for regretting the loss of the videos is that they undoubtedly would have shown the broken spirit of the al-Qaeda leaders, who have asked others to die as martyrs for their cause, as they cracked under pressure and gave up their colleagues to save their own hides. The image of these cowering leaders would have done more to demoralize prospective recruits to militant jihad than virtually anything else we have done so far in the global War on Terror.
1. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) Special Dispatch-Reform Project/Jihad & Terrorism Studies Project (December 14, 2007), No. 1785.
2. Traces Of Terror: The Investigation; Terrorist Yields Clues to Plots, Officials Assert by Philip Shenon And James Risen, New York Times (June 12, 2002).
3. "Hiroshima Debate: Was Harry Truman a War Criminal? Applying the Nuremberg Standards to Ourselves," from TomPaine.com (August 1, 2000).
4. President Truman’s diary regarding June 18, 1945 meeting from Truman Library website.