The Case for Waterboarding

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So is there any case to be made for the more aggressive handling of detainees in the war on terror, the treatment Cheney seems to be advocating? Or should we just join the pack that writes off this as another evidence of fascism in Amerikkka courtesy of Shrubbie McChimplerburton?

Andrew Sullivan and others are fond of citing the Wall Street Journal’s editorial position as the rhetorical dark tower. So if the WSJ is the devil’s best advocate here, it’s worth the time to go see the case they make before you reject it.

Here’s a sample. I’m linking it from an American Future post to avoid sending you into a subscription wall, but the whole thing is over there if you care to go get it.

One of Europe’s moral conceits is to fret constantly about the looming outbreak of fascism in America, even though it is on the Continent itself where the dictators seem to pop up every couple of decades. Then Europe dials 9-11, and Washington dutifully rides to the rescue. The last time was just a few years ago, as U.S. firepower stopped Slobodan Milosevic, who had bedeviled Europe for years.

In return, it would be nice if once in a while Europe decided to help America with its security problem, especially since Islamic terrorism is also Europe’s security problem. But instead the U.S. Secretary of State has to put up with lectures about the phony issue of “secret� prisons housing terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans.

We put “secret� in quotes because the CIA could hardly carry on operations in Europe without the knowledge of the countries involved. Rather, as Ms. Rice dryly put it, the U.S. often engages “the enemy through the cooperation of our intelligence services with their foreign counterparts.� So the so-called “rendition� programs at issue–involving the transportation, detention and questioning of terror suspects–are precisely the kind of anti-terror efforts that multilateral Europeans ought to love.

Yet as soon as the Washington Post began reporting on the “secret� detention facilities, the pretend questions began. A shocked, shocked British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw wrote the U.S. on behalf of the European Union demanding “clarification� to “allay parliamentary and public concerns.� EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini threatened “serious consequences,� including the “suspension of voting rights� against any EU member found to be involved. The anti-American press that dominates Europe has been in full cry.

[ . . . ] Ms. Rice’s pledge that the U.S. isn’t “torturing� anyone on European soil, or anywhere else, ought to be all the reassurance Europeans need. According to the CIA sources leaking these stories, the “secret� prisons were for housing only about a dozen top al Qaeda leaders, such as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

And the most aggressive interrogation technique authorized against such men is “waterboarding,� which induces a feeling of suffocation. That’s rough treatment, but the technique has also been used on U.S. servicemen to train them to resist interrogations, and we suspect many Europeans would accept it if they believed it might avert another Madrid.

If not, they certainly ought to explain the other realistic options. One possibility is sending terrorists to the likes of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where their intelligence services can do the interrogating. Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger once memorably explained this policy as sending suspects to countries where justice is “streamlined�–which is putting it mildly. This kind of “rendition� strikes us as far more morally problematic than taking responsibility for interrogation ourselves.

Meanwhile, the claim that aggressive interrogations of these hard cases are unnecessary and unproductive is simply naive. On Monday, ABC News reported that “Of the 12 high-value targets housed by the CIA, only one did not require waterboarding before he talked.� The exception was Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who “broke down in tears after he walked past the cell of� KSM. “Visibly shaken, he started to cry and became as cooperative as if he had been tied down to a water board,� ABC’s sources said.

The broad reality, of course, is that European intelligence and security services have been helping the CIA in fighting terror, both before and after 9/11. There have been arrests of terror-cell members, and even successful prosecutions. The failure has come at the level of political leadership, where elected officials refuse to acknowledge such cooperation, or to defend its moral necessity.

The danger here is less to America–which will continue to protect itself in any case–than it is to Europe. The phony outrage over American anti-terror practices will only make it harder for European governments to take the actions required to stop terror on their soil–witness French paralysis in the wake of the recent riots.

More dangerous for the longer term, the Continent’s preening anti-Americanism has also been duly noted on this side of the Atlantic. Europeans should worry that their moral hauteur may well be repaid by American popular opinion the next time they call on the Yanks to put down one of their homegrown fascists.

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