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PRUDEN: A tortuous route to the right thing
Torture is not nice. Nice people do not torture (except in rare circumstances). We can all agree on that much - depending, of course, on the definition of “torture.” The New York Times, for example, says it hates torture, but having to read a New York Times editorial is the pure torture forbidden by the Geneva Convention.
“Waterboarding,” the “enhanced interrogation technique” that makes a suspect think he’s drowning when he actually isn’t, is not very nice — but it is effective. The CIA estimates that up to 70 percent of what it knows about Osama bin Laden’s terrorist empire was obtained through “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 operation, sang his entire repertoire of insider detail after the CIA interrogators gave him a bath.
We have the informed word of Leon E. Panetta, the CIA chief and soon-to-be the chief at the Pentagon, for that. When Brian Williams of NBC News asked him whether waterboarding of al Qaeda suspects led to the capture and killing of bin Laden, Mr. Panetta hemmed a little and hawed a little, until the interviewer pressed a little. “One final time,” he asked, ” ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ — which has always been kind of a handy euphemism in these post-9/11 years — that includes waterboarding?”
Mr. Panetta replied with neither hem nor haw: “That’s correct.”
Michael Hayden, who preceded Mr. Panetta as CIA chief, tells a radio interviewer there was a straight line between the intelligence gleaned from interrogations of terrorist suspects and the moment that a Navy SEAL fired the shot that dispatched Osama into eternity. The statements of Messrs. Panetta and Hayden were statements of the perfectly obvious for everyone but those too weak and too delicate to bring themselves to look at the world as it actually is.
This does not fit the story line of the ladies of the mainstream media. The New York Times, whose violins are tuned to play only one note, and then only with its string section mounted astride a familiar drove of hobby horses, insists that waterboarding and other memory enhancers contributed only “a small role at most” in pinpointing Osama’s hide-out. Eugene H. Robinson, a sob sister for The Washington Post editorial page, so far as anyone knows was not present when interrogations revealed the name and significance of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, bin Laden’s prized courier. Nevertheless, he insists there was “no proof - and not even any legitimate evidence - that torture cracked the case,” adding, “I believe the odds are quite good that the CIA would have gotten onto al-Kuwaiti’s trail somehow or other.” But “somehow or other,” presidents and the men and women responsible for protecting the nation’s national security can’t afford to gamble recklessly, whatever Mr. Robinson’s reassuring “odds” may be.
The pious and the self-righteous are unable to indulge the sentiments of gratitude and celebration the rest of us feel. They’re severely cross about what the Navy SEALs accomplished with the help of the CIA interrogators. Celebrating the dispatch of Osama to a netherworld crack house of a paradise — we can only imagine what his 72 virgins look like — would emphasize how much President Obama and the rest of us owe to George W. Bush, who organized the pursuit of bin Laden and who put in place the methods used to run him to ground (or, if you like, to sea).
This is something neither the Hyde Park messiah nor what is left of his cult will talk about. Mr. Obama, in introducing Mr. Panetta as his CIA chief shortly before the inauguration, gave a ringing declaration that he would never do what George W. did, and what he has now done himself, in pursuit of keeping the nation safe from catastrophe. “I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture. We will uphold our highest ideals. … We must adhere to our values as diligently as we protect our safety with no exceptions.” Hmmmmm. “No exceptions,” the man said.
We can be grateful that Mr. Obama is capable of distinguishing between then and now, between theory and real life, between moonshine and the expensive bonded stuff, even if members of his cult can’t. One day, when man is finally perfected and all rough places are made smooth, we can live by the Golden Rule. Until then, presidents now and in the future will do what they have to do and leave the boilerplate piety to the blowhards of press and tube.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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