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Shredding the Torture Narrative

Dec 2, 2017
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Today’s Wall Street Journal points out a rather inconvenient truth for those convinced that the U.S. engaged in the systematic torture of terrorist detainees.

Turns out the our intelligence operatives water-boarded a grand total of three captured terrorists. That’s right, three–out of the thousands of terrorists detained by the United States since 9-11.

And, they were hardly your run-of-the-mill jihadists. All three were Al Qaida big fish, instrumental in past attacks, or in a position to mastermind new strikes against American targets.

In testimony before Congress on Tuesday, both the CIA Director, General Michael Hayden, and the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, confirmed that water-boarding was used only on three high-ranking detainees, previously linked to the controversial interrogation technique. They are: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who led the attack on the USS Cole in 1999; Abu Zubaydah, leader of the foiled “Millenium Plot” aimed at Los Angeles International Airport (and other transportation targets), and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, architect of the 9-11 attacks.

As the WSJ observes, yesterday’s testimony is yet another rebuke to those who insist that the U.S. government routinely–and repeatedly–tortured captive terrorists.

Instead, we have sworn public testimony that the waterboarding was conducted against the three individuals best positioned to know about impending terrorist atrocities. The interrogations took place when a second major terrorist attack was widely seen as inevitable. And we know that the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah helped lead to the capture of KSM, and to the foiling of an active terrorist plot against the United States.

The waterboarding was conducted by intelligence professionals who understood they were operating not only with the approval of the Justice Department but also the informed consent of key Congressional leaders, including Democrat Jay Rockefeller, then the ranking minority Member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Still, the testimony of General Hayden and Mr. McConnell does raise a rather obvious question: given what we know, why is it necessary to continue the investigation of “Tape Gate,” the destruction of interrogation videos that show the water-boarding of those three terrorists.

By all accounts, the water-boarding sessions are very brief. The technique is impossible to resist; Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the hardiest of the lot, lasted for 30 seconds before he cracked. Most of the tapes show the terrorists talking with their interrogators, or simply sitting in their cells. The sessions were (reportedly) taped to prove that the detainees weren’t being tortured for information (emphasis ours).

And, lest we forget, the CIA also informed Congress and the White House of its plans to destroy the tapes, fearing that they would be eventually leaked, and covert operatives exposed. With the exception of California Congresswoman Jane Harman (then the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee) and former White Housel Counsel Harriet Myers, there was nary a peep from the White House or Capitol Hill.

Nontheless, the Justice Department is spending lots of time–and taxpayer dollars–investigating the destruction of those tapes. Never mind that the interrogation technique had been approved; the existence of the tapes was known among key officials and that the CIA disclosed plans to destroy the recordings in advance. One more thing: the water-boarding sessions were conducted at secret detention facilities overseas, apparently beyond the reach of a federal judge, who ordered that interrogation materials from Guantanamo be preserved.

So where’s the crime? Truth be told, the tape controversy falls in the same category as the water-boarding scandal. Both are much ado about nothing.

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