Tuesday, December 20, 2005

If we die as a nation, Lincoln once said, it will be an act of national suicide. And so it seems we are. The media, led by The Washington Post, and Congress, led by Arizona Sen. John McCain, are moving America to disaster’s brink by intentionally destroying its most successful counterterrorism tool: the CIA’s rendition program.

Spurred by The Post’s traditional lust for compromising national security for no reason save selling copy, and abetted by Mr. McCain’s ignorant grandstanding and shameless exploitation of his POW record to sate his presidential lust, the CIA program that best defends America will soon be laid to rest. Around the grave The Post, Mr. McCain and the pacifist Democrats and their European idols will rejoice over burying what they have misidentified as “torture operations.” Instead, they will have destroyed America’s main offensive weapon against al Qaeda.

This disaster began nearly a year ago. First, the intrepid Post reporters revealed the tail number of an aircraft purportedly used by CIA to move captured militants. A piece of information of no news value, but titillating to the world’s media and incentive to America’s European enemies to destroy the cover of a covert-action capability that took years to perfect. How, thanks to The Post, the CIA’s clandestine counterterrorism cooperation with several allies has been exposed or reported incorrectly, time will tell — thereby severely diminishing the chance of further such cooperation. Unavoidably, this will weaken America against al Qaeda and result in more dead Americans. For The Post, thousands of American corpses are apparently not too much of a price to pay for selling papers and perhaps bagging a Pulitzer.

What to make of Mr. McCain? His behavior raises the question of whatever became of U.S. veterans who never sought to make political or economic hay from their wartime records. Former Sen. George McGovern and the actor Jimmy Stewart flew, respectively, 35 and 25 combat missions over Nazi Germany. They and tens of thousands of other World War II veterans chose not to draw attention to their own bravery and combat records. In Mr. McCain, we have a man who has been dining out on his POW experience for a quarter-century, and is now using it to grandstand on the so-called “torture” issue to advance his campaign for the presidency. This is not to question the Arizona senator’s personal bravery and patriotism — there is no question on these points — but merely to reflect on his tawdry, self-serving behavior in comparison to men like Mr. McGovern, Mr. Stewart, and their contemporaries. The senator’s “no-torture campaign” reveals him for what he is: A little man, with mediocre intelligence, a taste for bullying and an appalling temper who thinks the presidency is his birthright.

Mr. McCain’s attack on “CIA torture” will have the same impact as The Post’s: It will kill Americans. Neither Mr. McCain nor The Post have mentioned that the CIA conducts no torture, and that its interrogation methods have been approved, reviewed and reapproved by batteries of U.S. government lawyers. Also unmentioned is that CIA’s rendition program is today the main U.S. counterterrorism tool because neither the Clinton or Bush administrations nor the Congress have taken the Islamist threat seriously.

Terrified of the bad PR attendant to dead U.S. soldiers and civilian casualties, both administrations and Congress have made it their policy to “arrest and try terrorists one man at a time.” Content to ignore that America’s enemy is a worldwide Islamic insurgency and not Dutch Shultz’s gang, these entities have demanded that the CIA’s rendition program serve as the first line of America’s defense in capturing and interrogating all al Qaeda leaders.

That task, of course, is impossible. The rendition program was meant to complement other national counterterrorist operations, not be the national counter-terrorist program, which is the status it holds today. While the FBI cannot buy a computer system that works, the Congress refuses to secure U.S. borders or Russia’s nuclear arsenal, and our presidents send U.S. soldiers and Marines overseas with inappropriate equipment and rules of engagement that choke U.S. military power, The Post and Mr. McCain are intent on destroying the one offensive U.S. program that saves American lives. Why? To increase revenue, to edge toward the presidency, and to placate two-faced European and U.S. human-rights activists. Yes, this includes you, Sens. Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy and Charles Schumer, who use any stick to beat America, but have never uttered a word about going after Putin, Yeltsin and Gorbachev as the legatees of a system that deliberately murdered 40 million people.

History is replete with episodes of rats leaving a sinking ship. Thanks to The Post and Mr. McCain, we may now be watching the rats sink the ship.

Michael Scheuer, a 22-year veteran with the CIA, created and served as the chief of the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center. He is also the author of “Imperial Hubris.”

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