After many months of investigation and heated controversy, the EU’s anti-terrorism chief Gijs de Vries testified recently that the CIA operates no secret interrogation facilities in Europe. Many welcomed this news with relief. But if de Vries’s findings are indeed correct then we have a good reason to be disconcerted, since the existence of such facilities is wholly indispensable to our success in the "War on Terror".
Intelligence is the most effective – and in many situations the only – weapon we have in the war against the enemy we currently face. The terrorist operates by making himself invisible and often the only way to disrupt his plots is by having a prior knowledge of them.
One of the most important sources of such knowledge is captured terrorists themselves. The challenge is how to extract this information from them. Of one thing we can be certain: Hating us as they do, they will not reveal it voluntarily. In most cases, especially when time is of the essence, crucial intelligence can only be obtained through the infliction of physical pain.
Consider the following example. In March of 2003, our forces in Pakistan got hold of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Al Qaeda's operational leader with "unrivaled knowledge of the organization's plans and personnel." An anti-terrorist expert at St. Andrews University in Scotland said this about him just after the arrest:
Depending on who interrogates him and where, several Al Qaeda operations in the planning, preparation, and execution may be disrupted. As head of the military committee of Al Qaeda, he knows all the key regional leaders and assets ... in at least 98 countries.
Recalcitrant and defiant, the captured Sheik was unwilling to talk -- until he was subjected to a rather unpleasant procedure known as waterboarding. He lasted two minutes and thirty-five seconds before begging for relief. His subsequent confession turned out to be a priceless trove of actionable intelligence that helped disrupt plots, capture additional terrorists and save the lives of innocent men, women and children.
A striking example of the effectiveness and value of forced interrogation, this case shows why we not only have a moral right but also a duty to make use of it. The act of putting under temporary physical duress mayhem-plotting terrorists is amply justified by the hundreds and possibly thousands of potentially saved lives. Those who still have their doubts should only ask themselves this: Should we be more concerned about the short-term pain of a fanatic than the lives of innocent people whom he intends to murder? It is difficult to see how anyone in their right senses could chose the former.
Those who base their objections to coercive interrogation on moral considerations should reflect on the fact that failure to avail ourselves of it would be morally unforgivable. For how in good conscience could we bear to look at the mangled bodies of victims knowing that we could have saved them simply by putting some pressure on their killers?
Much of the opposition, however, is driven not by moral qualms but something more insidious. Inexplicable as it may seem, there are some in our midst who so hate their own country that they want to see it defeated. Having realized that forced interrogation is one of the most effective weapons in this war, they want to deprive us of it.
It is disturbing to see the critics carry the day while the other side cowers, afraid even to articulate the rationale behind this invaluable practice. The president himself has been markedly evasive, even though it is obvious he has tacitly authorized its use. In doing so he was absolutely correct and justified. Yet we find ourselves in an absurd situation where the man who is trying to protect us can’t even speak honestly about his efforts. There is something deeply askew with our mindset when we must hide from ourselves the fact of doing that which is right.
Rather than playing the role of accusers, it is the critics who should be called to account. Perhaps they could tell us whether they place the temporary discomfort of terrorists over the lives of their fellow citizens. They should also be asked if they know of a better method of extracting crucial intelligence from recalcitrant jihadists. If so, let’s hear it. But if they don’t, they should hold their peace and not sabotage the work of those who try to shield us from the murderous designs of a treacherous enemy.
It is imperative that we cut through the hysteria so that the vital work of aggressive interrogation can be carried out properly with the full sanction of our legal and political establishments. To bring this about will require some leadership and no one is better positioned for this task than the president himself. Since nothing usually works better than plain truth, why not to state publicly what he quite obviously believes in his heart? His case would be much strengthened were he to come out and say something like this:
I fully support the application of forced interrogation to those who plot murder and destruction in our midst. I believe that it is the best and most effective way of obtaining crucial intelligence from refractory terrorists which we would never have access to otherwise. I also believe that the lives of our citizens are far more valuable than the temporary discomfort of those scheming to kill us. I have sworn to protect this country and its people and it is my duty to take every reasonable measure to that effect. Denying our security forces this invaluable tool would be a gross violation of my oath.
The administration’s reluctance to make this case is especially puzzling in light of several surveys suggesting widespread public support for this practice. Late last year, for example, MSNBC ran an article titled "Poll finds broad approval of terrorist torture," which reported the results of an AP-Ipsos poll in which 61 percent of Americans agreed that "torture" is justified under some circumstances. This only stands to reason, since most people realize that it is their own safety this method seeks to ensure.
In addition to strengthening his standing with the American people, a bold and honest presentation of the truth by the president would also have another beneficial effect. It would strip away the critics’ false mantle of moral righteousness and expose them for what they truly are: saboteurs seeking to deprive us of one of the most valuable weapons at our disposal in the "War on Terror."
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