Hurray For Waterboarding

Not surprisingly, Osama bin Laden was nailed through information gained from interrogating terrorists. It led to a trusted associate of the world’s most wanted terrorist. From there, finding bin Laden was a matter of locating that individual and tracking him to al Qaeda’s leader. It took years to get the job done because of the elaborate security procedures that protected bin Laden. But, last Sunday, Osama got his. Good riddance to the man mislabeled a mastermind for pulling off 9/11. It just isn’t that hard to figure out how to murder unarmed civilians.

The interrogation techniques used to gather the information leading to bin Laden’s demise have been intensely criticized for several years. These harangues are almost as voluminous as the write-ups on 9/11 and fall into two categories: the techniques are inhumane and, my personal favorite, they don’t yield desired results.

Both of these arguments are tortured. Interrogation techniques are, by design, stressful and painful. They’re a type of heavy-handed negotiation: we’ll stop the pain if you tell us what you know. That being said, methods resulting in death and broken bones are definite no-no’s. Inflicting severe physical and mental suffering is frowned upon. But, severity is a function of duration as well as degree and varies by method.

For example, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the terrorists who named the trusted associate, was allegedly waterboarded 183 times. Obviously, something that repeatable isn’t damaging. It is very nasty, as it simulates drowning, but that is the whole point. No pain, no gain.

As for tough interrogation not providing reliable information, of course it does. Certainly, the interrogation of a single individual may not yield the truth for a number of reasons. But, when several people at different times provide the same information during interrogation, it’s a pretty safe bet they’re telling the truth. That’s what happened here.  Osama’s most trusted courier was identified from statements given by assorted terrorists undergoing painful interrogation, including waterboarding. Three cheers for that.

The anti-interrogation proponents, such as those cited above, claim the techniques actually elicit false information from those interrogated. Apparently, the methods they describe are not what our armed forces and intelligence agencies use because our guys got the truth.

The final piece of the puzzle was pinpointing bin Laden’s exact location. Why was U.S. intelligence so confident he was in the courier’s Pakistani compound? Turns out, Osama was betrayed by the same tell that gives politicians away: an exaggerated attempt to cover up what they want hidden.

The truth of a situation is often learned from elaborate efforts to conceal it. The denial becomes so overblown that, rather than obscuring reality, it points to it like a flashing neon sign. In our search for bin Laden, the Abbottabad compound was the flashing sign. The security around and in it was so tight, and so out of proportion to the neighborhood, that something was very clearly amiss.

The entertaining, if entirely expected, fall-out from bin Laden’s death are the conspiracy theories springing up like flowers in April. Such as, he’s still alive and well since, not only is there no body, we cooked up a too elaborate excuse to explain why not. Or, he was killed, not because he resisted, but because Obama didn’t want the embarrassment of Eric Holder fighting for yet another civilian trial. Or, Osama’s body was flown to DC for scientific study into the psychopathology of cowardice.

I’m partial to the last one. It would shed some light on the behavior of our spending-crazed politicians, too.

See you in the mirror.