No Lasting Harm
Reuters has reviewed an advance copy of George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points, in which the former President offers a strong defense of his decision to approve waterboarding against three terrorist detainees. Bush is adamant that the procedure was “highly effective,” resulted in “no lasting harm,” and produced intelligence that saved lives. Waterboarding broke al-Qaeda cave-troll Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who spilled vital information about planned biological warfare attacks. Despite its success, the technique was banned by President Obama shortly after he took office, earning applause from the sort of people who denounce Guantanamo Bay as a gulag staffed by Nazis but then cough into their handkerchiefs and change the subject when al-Qaeda and Taliban atrocities against prisoners are mentioned.
Bush’s book arrives even as America deals with the latest attempted terrorist attack, arriving via UPS from Yemen. As freshly re-elected super-genius Democrat Senator Patty Murray once explained, al-Qaeda normally whiles away the decades “building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, and building health-care facilities.” This week, however, they found time to stuff cartons with lead azide, PETN, and Styrofoam peanuts, to look up the shipping addresses of some Chicago synagogues, and to remind us that we are at war with the anti-civilization, which is very much invested in doing lasting harm to us.
The conventional wisdom about terrorism portrays it as a spontaneous uprising, a grassroots phenomenon caused primarily by poverty. Discussing last year’s Underpants Bomber, President Obama said, “We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies.” But the Fruit of the Boom, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was in fact a wealthy Nigerian. The Yemen bomb plot is believed to have been the work of Ibrahim al-Asiri, who hails from Saudi Arabia, where poverty is not even lightly squeezing, let alone crushing.
In reality, the anti-civilization requires organization, leadership, funding, and state assistance to metastasize into a deadly threat. International terrorists are not little cells of bitter dead-enders, huddling in their basements to share hate pornography on nutty websites, like the audience of MSNBC. They need the kind of training and protection that governments, or at least powerful rogue elements, can provide. Their goal is not merely to martyr themselves by pulling off the occasional murder. They believe that they have a serious chance to destroy any civilizations that they deem unfit to exist. The Yemen plot appears to have been designed to inflict economic damage, rather than a high body count. Even though the bombs didn’t detonate, this sophisticated objective may have been reached to some degree, as enhanced security measures increase the cost of international shipping. This was one move made by a determined enemy that is playing a very long game.
This brings us back to Bush, and his heartless decision to slap a wet towel on the face of the animal who masterminded the 9/11 attacks. Those who argue against enhanced interrogation often insist that there’s no such thing as the “ticking bomb” scenario. Yesterday we learned from French officials that one of the UPS bombs was only 17 minutes away from detonation when it was found. The authorities were tipped off by a former prisoner of Guantanamo Bay, which once again demonstrates the critical value of human intelligence, as well as suggesting that ex-Gitmo detainees aren’t keeping their noses clean after they join the very thin ranks of those who escape from Cuba.
There has always been a fundamental childishness associated with the battle over enhanced interrogation techniques. If Americans were ever to learn that a large-scale plot had succeeded because captured terrorists had been treated with the full array of rights reserved to lawful combatants, they would howl for the blood of those responsible. Very few critics of waterboarding would hesitate to use it to save their own loved ones. No man—no human being—would indulge a terrorist in elaborate legal arguments while his own family was being torn to shreds. Liberals can afford to drag their own consciences to the hills of Calvary in elaborate passion plays because other people’s families are at stake.
Treating disguised saboteurs and murderers the same as one would treat uniformed soldiers is a low point for any lawful nation, not something to brag about. To kowtow to such faulty, politically correct sentiments amounts to a tacit acceptance of the terrorist’s critique; it is to make a concession that war should be won by any means necessary, and that Marines are no different from suicide bombers. But those who place themselves outside of civilization in order to destroy it deserve none of the considerations that civilized men show to each other.
Terrorists aren’t helpless victims of poverty: They made a choice, and it is foolish to pretend that a better one didn’t exist for them.
In an asymmetrical war against an enemy with a sweet tooth for soft targets, intelligence is vital to thwarting attacks before a countdown to detonation has begun. The Bush memoir reminds us that we have access to techniques that break hardened terror masterminds, while causing “no lasting harm.” Sweeping these tactics off the table means gambling with countless innocent lives. Many people are alive today because George W. Bush was the President when the decision point for waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his associates was reached.
God help us if another such moment arrives before 2012.