The Real Issue On Harsh Interrogations

The assassination of Osama Bin Laden was a great moment for the United States, as it issued final justice to a man responsible for the death of thousands here at home and abroad.  The intelligence necessary to locate Bin Laden has of course become a political football, as the issue of harsh interrogations once again enters the American political consciousness.

I think the discussions are important, but the focus needs to be on the here and now.

Many have focused on harsh interrogations occurring at the Guantanamo Bay terrorist facility and elsewhere, especially in the 2001-2005 time period.  Frankly, that discussion is useless.  First of all, it is debatable whether those techniques would be legal today, after Congress took action in 2005 and 2006 to restrict interrogation techniques.  But prior to those Congressional actions, they appear to be certainly legal.  The only question of their legality would be by referring to the Geneva Conventions, and many legal experts feel that even using that international statute, it is questionable whether it would have had jurisdiction in America’s War on Terror against Al Qaeda.

An interesting side note is that those same international laws also forbid political assassinations, of which one could argue Osama Bin Laden’s death last week could also constitute a violation of international law. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay demanded “full disclosure of the accurate facts” about the events leading to the assassination.  Two other  UN human rights investigators said although this case may warrant an exception, “the norm should be that terrorists be dealt with as criminals, through legal processes of arrest, trial and judicially decided punishment.”

Fascinating we haven’t heard those arguments from our political left today, isn’t it?

Americans frankly don’t care what the UN High Commissioner says.  And frankly, either does President Obama.  We know, based on our own moral center, that the killing of OBL was just and deserved.  And Obama rightfully didn’t go to the UN for permission to invade Pakistani sovereignty to commit US troops to killing Bin Laden.  International law is important, but never should interfere with any country’s self defense.

That is an argument that the Obama Administration is making today, and that the Bush Administration has made since the days immediately after September 11, 2001.

The more important issue in my humble opinion is the continued attacks against brave members of our intelligence community in their service to our country during the last two Presidencies.  The political left, with head cheerleader Barack Obama leading the way, have largely used the attacks against the intelligence services for political grandstanding and personal gain.  For the most part, these attacks were unfair, as even the Obama Administration has accepted many of the techniques used under the Bush Administration.  Guantanamo Bay remains open and functional, with no plan to close in the near future.  And the military tribunals have now restarted, after a delay of Obama’s and Attorney General Eric Holder’s choosing.  Those techniques that have not been used under Obama, such as harsh interrogations, have never been proven to be illegal, and the current administration doesn’t seem to be headed toward any prosecutions in any case.   In fact, one can argue that they were certainly legal until Congress specifically narrowed allowable actions after 2005.

In an Op-Ed from former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Mr. Mukasey makes the key point:

It is debatable whether the same techniques would be lawful under statutes passed in 2005 and 2006—phrased in highly abstract terms such as “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment—that some claimed were intended to ban waterboarding even though the Senate twice voted down proposals to ban the technique specifically. It is, however, certain that intelligence-gathering rather than prosecution must be the first priority, and that we need a classified interrogation program administered by the agency best equipped to administer it: the CIA.

We also need to put an end to the ongoing investigations of CIA operatives that continue to undermine intelligence community morale.

Acknowledging and meeting the need for an effective and lawful interrogation program, which we once had, and freeing CIA operatives and others to administer it under congressional oversight, would be a fitting way to mark the demise of Osama bin Laden.

President Obama would do the country a great service by ending all investigations against the same intelligence services that provided him the key information in locating America’s most wanted terrorist.  One can argue to what degree harsh interrogations were key to killing Bin Laden.  But no one can argue that many of the same people who served with honor during the period that liberals have continued to castigate as a period of torture and illegality were the same individuals who helped provide America with the ultimate justice against the leader of Al Qaeda that we have all waited so long to see.  Putting an end to the inquisition against these proud Americans would be a fine footnote to the end of Osama Bin Laden.