The Wrong Way To Try Terrorists

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - November 24, 2010
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Ahmed Ghailani

Although the latest CNN poll finds two thirds of all Americans believe the 9-11 terrorists should be tried by military tribunal (and half of those think Guantanamo is the best venue), President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder still prefer civilian show trials in New York City. They believe these terrorists should be held, advised of their rights, tried and punished accordingly, all in the civil legal system as a showcase to the world of the great American justice system.

By contrast, former President George W. Bush believed that terrorists should be captured, exploited to the max for intelligence, and then efficiently tried by a military tribunal and punished accordingly. This Bush policy is reaffirmed by national security veteran Marc Thiessen in his recent book, Courting Disaster; How The CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack.

Thiessen outlines with unequivocal fact and logic why “‘enhanced interrogation techniques’do not qualify as torture by any objective standard; specific terrorist plots foiled by the CIA based upon information obtained by enhanced interrogation; how the Obama administration is giving captured terrorists more legal rights than granted to legitimate prisoners of war; and how information released by Obama has aided our enemies and put America at greater risk of another major terrorist attack.”


Mostly by media hype, waterboarding has become the big bug-a-boo, the mother of all enhanced interrogation techniques. For perspective, Thiessen quotes Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens, who, by prior arrangement, journeyed to the Army’s special operations training center in the mountains of North Carolina where he volunteered to be waterboarded.

“Waiting in the darkness, on my back, head downward ... felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose ... determined to resist ... held my breath till I had to exhale, and inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils ... like a huge wet paw suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face ... couldn’t tell if breathing in or out ... flooded more with sheer panic than water, I triggered the prearranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and the stifling layers pulled off me.”

Hitchens had volunteered for this experience so he could write that it was torture, which he did (Believe Me, It’s Torture, Vanity Fair, August, 2008) But in reality, he proved it was not. The standard for torture in U.S. law is the infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” Thiessen’s common-sense definition: “If you are willing to try it to see what it feels like, it is not torture.”

In fact, he points out, Hitchens was so chagrined by his performance the first time around, he asked for a second try! Torture?


By using these few moments of panic on only a few captured terrorists in a tightly controlled environment, CIA interrogators have obtained information and leads that saved hundreds, maybe thousands of American lives. Thiessen reveals an unexpected bonus for interrogators who discovered that Islam itself specifies maximum resistance to such interrogations, but when once broken - by whatever means - the prisoner is allowed to cooperate without further resistance. Some expressed actual relief after being broken: “You must do this for all the brothers.”

FLASH! Literally as I compose this column, I receive news of the verdict in the New York City trial of terrorist Ahmed Ghailani, the Tanzanian who purchased the truck, the TNT and other bomb parts for the al-Qaida terrorist cell that executed the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, which (with a simultaneous bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya) killed 224 innocent people, including 12 Americans. The verdict: innocent on all but one of 284 counts. The civilian judge disallowed a key prosecution witness because his name had been obtained from Ghailani through “enhanced interrogation techniques” while he was being held at Guantanamo.

Could there be a stronger argument for military tribunals held at Gitmo?

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