Acting in our own self interest in a dangerous world
By David H. Landon
In what can only be described as a testament to the ultimate capability of the U.S. military and intelligence community, Osama bin Laden is dead. On May 2, in the dead of a moonless night, our military flew four modified stealth-like Black Hawk helicopters containing elite Special Forces Navy SEALs into Pakistan airspace. Flying under the Pakistani radar, the small U.S. force made a surgical strike at the compound where bin Laden was hiding. It turns out that for years he had been hiding in the military town of Abbottabad, which is located only two hours drive north of the capital city of Islamabad. The SEALs dispatched bin Laden with two bullets to the head. For justifiable reasons, it would appear the plan was to kill the al-Qaida leader rather than capture him.
Killing bin Laden saved the Obama administration from the awkward situation of what to do with the mastermind of 9/11 once he was in captivity. Where would the U.S. hold bin Laden? To take him to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay would expose the administration to the hypocrisy of their campaign to demonize the U.S. for operating Gitmo during the Bush presidency. President Obama and Attorney General Holden’s previously held position on Guantanamo, both when Bush was president and after taking office, was that keeping these prisoners in a military prison off U.S. soil somehow violated the rights of these enemy combatants. Political sniping at President Bush was easier than protecting our national interest. According to the Obama/Holden doctrine, capturing Osama bin Laden and bringing him onto U.S. soil would require the U.S. grant due process rights to bin Laden. By their own distorted rhetoric on the manner in which we may treat enemy combatants, if bin Laden were held on U.S. soil, there would have been a criminal trial in some U.S. District Court and it would have been a drawn-out circus of an affair.
The other obvious problem of a trial on U.S. soil would have been the immense danger to citizens here and around the world. It was a hostage situation waiting to happen. Anywhere a U.S. citizen might be found, they could be kidnapped and held hostage in exchange for bin Laden’s release. The world is better off that SEAL Team 6 was forced to kill bin Laden rather than take him alive. How we found him has opened a new debate on the use of the enhanced interrogation techniques that were sanctioned by the Bush administration and ended by Obama’s.
The investigation into locating and killing bin Laden got its first break after we obtained crucial intelligence by subjecting several high-level detainees to waterboarding. The Obama administration has, in the aftermath of the strike, acknowledged that CIA interrogators in secret overseas prisons developed the first strands of information on bin Laden’s whereabouts. Of all of the detainees in captivity, only three high-level detainees were waterboarded. Current and former U.S. officials say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the true mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, provided the pseudonym of one of bin Laden’s most trusted aides. This aide was in fact bin Laden’s personal courier who traveled back and forth between bin Laden and his operatives, passing out orders and the plans of al-Qaida’s ongoing attacks on the West.
The CIA got similar information from Mohammed’s successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Both of these terrorists were subjected to waterboarding by the Bush administration inside CIA prisons in Poland and Romania. Once they had the nom de guerre, they were able to use the authorization granted under the Patriot Act to direct electronic surveillance to finding the real name of the courier. When phone calls using his name were detected it wasn’t long before the U.S. had their target. The picture became crystal clear to the U.S. intelligence forces in August of last year that bin Laden was hiding in plain sight in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad. There are some reports that once they determined a high probability of his whereabouts, Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, Robert Gates and David Petraeus were all were urging the president to act before bin Laden moved again. It took President Obama from August until the beginning of May to finally act on the intelligence and to close the net around bin Laden.
The success of the limited use of enhanced interrogation techniques is now for all to see. The only three terrorists upon which the method was used are all alive, with maybe only their egos worse for the wear. This extraction of valuable intelligence using this method should support the case that far from being inhumane or unconscionable, the Bush administration’s decision to treat terrorists as terrorists not only helped save lives, but directly contributed to tracking down bin Laden. Was the use of these techniques justified? Absolutely, it was justified.
I can respect John McCain’s position in denouncing enhanced interrogation techniques. He is likely the only public official who has actually been tortured. But I respectfully disagree with his assessment that these techniques didn’t work. By all accounts Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was singing like a bird after his waterboarding experience.
The second issue of whether or not the U.S. violated Pakistan’s sovereignty is a non-starter. This terrorist was living comfortably among the Pakistanis for a number of years. They can’t seriously contend that they didn’t know that he was there. Our previously-stated doctrine trumps their national borders. We suggested after 9/11 that on this issue, you were either with us or against us. Any state that harbors terrorists is against us. Pakistan’s harboring of bin Laden was unacceptable. The action taken by Obama to fly into Pakistan and kill bin Laden was correct.
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@daytoncitypaper.com