CIA: We stand behind our actions — and the results

posted at 2:45 pm on April 21, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

With Barack Obama releasing the OLC memos and branding them as all but criminal and leaving the door open to prosecutions connected to the interrogation of Al-Qaeda terrorists, one might expect the CIA to retreat from its earlier defense of its actions.  So far, though, the agency remains tenacious in insisting that waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, and Abu Zubaydah saved American lives.  CNS News reports that the CIA stands by its 2005 memo describing how those interrogations stopped another 9/11-scale attack:

The Central Intelligence Agency told today that it stands by the assertion made in a May 30, 2005 Justice Department memo that the use of “enhanced techniques” of interrogation on al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM) — including the use of waterboarding — caused KSM to reveal information that allowed the U.S. government to thwart a planned attack on Los Angeles.

Before he was waterboarded, when KSM was asked about planned attacks on the United States, he ominously told his CIA interrogators, “Soon, you will know.”

According to the previously classified May 30, 2005 Justice Department memo that was released by President Barack Obama last week, the thwarted attack — which KSM called the “Second Wave”– planned “ ‘to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into’ a building in Los Angeles.”

KSM initially resisted all other interrogation procedures, right up to the waterboard.  He insisted that Americans did not have the necessary resolve to get information out of him, and that we would only know about the next plot when it killed hundreds, if not thousands again.  Only after the waterboard did KSM cough up the information on the “second wave” attacks, and the CIA and other national-security agencies stopped it.

Does this answer whether waterboarding is torture?  Not really.  Does it negate the canard that “torture never works”?  Yes.  Torture works in getting people to talk, and sometimes they tell the truth.  The CIA got what it wanted — the information it needed to save lives — but it doesn’t prove or disprove whether a mock-execution procedure like waterboarding is torture or not.

It does, however, pose a difficult question for Americans, especially since the CIA even under Leon Panetta seems determined to get an answer to it.  What price do we want to pay for a pristine conscience in combating terrorism?  Do you mind if it costs thousands of American lives in plots we can’t discover because a terrorist suspect captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or somewhere else has lawyered up?  Are there times when we can appropriately use a non-lethal technique without letting the target know that it’s non-lethal, in order to save American lives?

Both sides need to quit pretending on this issue.  Mock executions fit the definition of torture, and they also saved a lot of American lives.  If we can admit to reality, then we can have an honest debate about how far we should go to protect ourselves, and what price might be too high for our public image internationally.

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Hairy bastard.

Where does he get those shirts with the neck hole 8 times bigger than it needs to be?

Must be one of those Iranian Fruit-of-the-Loom ripoffs, like their drone.

UltimateBob on April 22, 2009 at 10:30 AM

Gotta love the Left:

Water-boarding = heinous torture, completely immoral

Pulling baby’s head out of mother, sucking brain out with long needle = acceptable alternative to contraception

jazz_piano on April 21, 2009 at 6:23 PM

You forgot:

If baby survives mother’s attempt to kill him/her then leave living baby on a dirty shelf to die alone.

Above greatly supported by our CIC

vapig on April 22, 2009 at 10:38 AM

Again what would the leftists here do to extract information if they would not use waterboarding. Is the question too difficult?

garydt on April 22, 2009 at 9:55 AM

Yep, day #2 now and still no answer. Guess they don’t have one.

Conservative_SAHM on April 22, 2009 at 10:50 AM

Lefties live in the land of ‘nuance’. It doesn’t have to make sense to them.

GarandFan on April 22, 2009 at 11:00 AM

What price do we want to pay for a pristine conscience in combating terrorism?

This galls me, most notably the ‘pristine’ part. There isn’t anything pristine about war. You are either in it or not, and if you are in it, you better be in it to win. What ever happened to “All’s fare in love and war”?

Ed, I’m not saying you subscribe to this sophomoric idea of war but it is an example of why dumbing down our culture into thinking there are no winners or losers and that everyone is equal on a level playing field is inherently dangerous. Sadly it seems there is a growing majority that thinks there is an antiseptic or pristine way to conduct war. ‘War is hell’ is not just a saying, it is a fact. War is the closest any corporeal being can come to experiencing true hell before sloughing off their mortal coils and having the unfortunate opportunity of experience it for eternity.

War is not nice, it is not pretty. It is barbaric and horrifying by the very definition of these terms. See it, recognize it, and deal with it. Otherwise we may be approaching the bottom of the slide from ‘The Greatest Generation’ to the lost or last generation.

Rambling complete, thanks.

bcre8v on April 22, 2009 at 11:08 AM

If we can admit to reality, then we can have an honest debate about how far we should go to protect ourselves, and what price might be too high for our public image internationally.

Easy Answer from the Left — as long as it doesn’t kill anyone I care about, the price is never too high.

tkmcp on April 22, 2009 at 11:11 AM


getalife on April 22, 2009 at 11:14 AM

The actual result of all the dueling with the leftist trolls leaves one with but a single conclusion. They, as a group, would never agree to anything that might resemble their idea of torture, even if that decision might cost the lives of friends or family.

Yoop on April 21, 2009 at 6:01 PM

Of course not – they expect others to do the dirty work. And if others don’t handle it, the Left will harp and whine about how ill-prepared “we” were.

katiejane on April 22, 2009 at 11:38 AM

I vote Republican (for well over 20 years) and I do not support torture.

History has repeatedly shown that societies that condone torture eventually see far greater human rights violations against their own people (from foreign enemies as well as domestic).

The fact that the US Government waterboarded a man over 180 times in one month will create blowback. Our troops and our nation is in greater danger because of this, just as this brought more violence from our enraged enemies.

popularpeoplesfront on April 22, 2009 at 11:55 AM

Understanding the left’s pro abortion stance, and their apposition to torturing and executing the guilty, is only possible when you understand that they know themselves to be the guilty.

darktood on April 22, 2009 at 11:56 AM

popularpeoplesfront on April 22, 2009 at 11:55 AM

Was 9/11 brought on because of the USA using harsh techniques or because we used techniques that weren’t harsh enough?

Conservative_SAHM on April 22, 2009 at 12:33 PM


getalife on April 22, 2009 at 11:14 AM

It certainly is. When all else fails the left revives yet another of their distorted version of events and smears it around for the umpteenth time.

KittyLowrey on April 22, 2009 at 1:22 PM

getalife on April 22, 2009 at 11:14 AM

What exactly are you saying is BS?

I read the article and it claims that there was pressure from Cheney and Rumsfield to torture high level detainees because:

“The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.”

I lived in NY during that period, so, I’m well aware of the fact that people were worried that another attack was coming. KSM claimed more attacks were coming. Are you saying that it’s BS that the waterboarding was able to get actionable intel out of KSM that helped the U.S. stop further terrorist attacks?

Or are you claiming that the torture was in order to force evidence of a false connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda (which, according to this article, was already stated as not being the main reason for the torture)?

Assuming the unnamed sources quoted in this article are telling the truth (given that the article points out that other interrogation officers remembered being pressured to get intel but said they were not pressured to provide evidence of an Iraq/AQ link, that is questionable) it seems that this article could be used as evidence that torture actually does work.

Many people claim that torture doesn’t work because people being tortured will give false info in order to end the torture. Now, we have a situation where the people doing the torturing were supposedly looking for specific information about a connection between Iraq and AQ. Instead, what they got was actionable intel about an attack on LA and no false confessions about the connection they were supposedly looking for.

If torture = actionable intel with no false info, it seems like a winning tactic to me.

JadeNYU on April 22, 2009 at 1:50 PM

The damage has been done and President Obama has killed not only the CIA future intelligence gathering under his administration, but ALL US intelligence agencies and that is the real issue from the memo release, which his administration seems to not to care about. I believe the goal was to distract from the failed economic policies and world tour, but they have no clue about what it really did.

This probably did more to cripple our intelligence agencies then all the budget cuts to them in the 1990’s did. There is nothing now he is going to be able to do in the future while he is in office to fix it. Then is the question of will it recover even with a change of administration because they will still have to wonder if the next President might change his mind.

JeffinSac on April 22, 2009 at 1:53 PM

Again I say. Laser – Hair – Removal!!!

watson007 on April 22, 2009 at 2:16 PM

Both sides need to quit pretending on this issue. Mock executions fit the definition of torture, and they also saved a lot of American lives. If we can admit to reality, then we can have an honest debate…

Reminds me of the abortion issue – 30 years from now people will still be yelling about the wisdom/ethics of this issue

in_awe on April 22, 2009 at 2:54 PM

Thus confirming another Bush lie.

Constantine on April 22, 2009 at 3:17 PM

There isn’t a mother alive, including Ms. Obama, that wouldn’t personally rip the tongue out of a terrorist mouth to save their child from being killed…even the possibility of being killed.

right2bright on April 22, 2009 at 3:40 PM

I see that too many people posting here still do not understand the issue. I am encouraged by this Corner post by Jim Manzi who correctly realizes the blindingly obvious truth that whether or not coercive interrogations work as a tactic (I am inclined to believe they do) they are disastrous as a strategy…especially disastrous for a democracy that needs public legitimacy to succeed in war.

Also encouraging is this post today from the Boston Globe’s token conservative Jeff Jacoby who concedes, as do I, that the interrogations may well have saved lives…but is still opposed to them.

By the way: I am not criticizing George Bush and Dick Cheney. I think the aggressive interrogations were a mistake, not a crime. In the atmosphere that prevailed after 9/11, especially after the anthrax attacks, it was entirely understandable that the president would authorize extraordinary measures. Obama should not have released the memos and I think he is mainly doing it for the pleasure of embarrassing the previous administration.

As is clear from the contents of the memos, George Bush tried to cope with an extremely dangerous situation using extraordinary measures while still maintaining the traditional American respect for human rights and common decency. I have no quarrel with George Bush. I prefer him any day to the narcissist-in-chief who is running the country now. In fact, I believe you got stuck with Obama at least in part because of public distaste for the “aggressive interrogation” policy. Still think it was worth it?

My main complaint is directed at the gung-ho advocates of torture who do not seem to realize there is a moral quandary that has to be addressed. It seems that some people posting here do not even know that their country has a reputation for respecting human rights, and that they should be proud of it. This is not Leftism. It is honor, patriotism and traditional values.

TrueNorth on April 22, 2009 at 5:03 PM

Constantine on April 22, 2009 at 3:17 PM

Introducing getalife’s new comedy partner. Be sure to check out her inane “blog”.

Del Dolemonte on April 22, 2009 at 7:16 PM

America, a land of twittering twits. “Interrogations may have saved lives…but I’m still opposed to them”… Are you kidding? And if the life that wasn’t saved had been your mother’s or your father’s or your baby girl’s, would you say the same thing? Yeah, it’s ugly, but another scene like 9/11 with thousands of people jumping from the top of the towers rather than burn to death would be even uglier. Get real, folks.

Halli Casser-Jayne
author, A YEAR IN MY PAJAMAS WITH PRESIDENT OBAMA, The Politics of Strange Bedfellows

The CJ Political Report on April 22, 2009 at 10:13 PM

Yep, day #2 now and still no answer. Guess they don’t have one.

Conservative_SAHM on April 22, 2009 at 10:50 AM

I asked one straight up tonight. The crickets are still chirping in my neck of the woods.

But, hey, maybe they could show their captives looped video of the Code Pink babes. That could break anybody!

koz on April 23, 2009 at 12:57 AM

TrueNorth on April 22, 2009 at 5:03 PM

I agree with everything you said except that Obama is a “narcisist-in-chief.” I like Obama, just not a lot of his supporters. Too many of them are rabid. That being said, with all due respect, a lot of his “not supporters” are a little too rabid. I also think the notion is laughable that these Bush administration officials should be prosecuted for doing what they thought was right. All out laughable. I agree; it was a mistake, but an illegal mistake? I don’t think so. It’s the same thing with the wiretapping. Whoever posted about Clinton approving torture was right; you want to prosecute people for approving torture, then have a go. You’ll find a long line of ’em at the end of your left-wing rainbow.

NathanG on April 23, 2009 at 1:11 AM

Easy Answer from the Left — as long as it doesn’t kill anyone I care about, the price is never too high.

That’s pretty much what it boils down to. They figure the odds are good it won’t be them.

Alana on April 23, 2009 at 2:17 AM