Marc Thiessen: Waterboarding Worked in Gaining Valuable Intel

Monday, 09 May 2011 04:25 PM

By David A. Patten

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The United States must protect its right to strike al-Qaida strongholds in Pakistani territory whenever terrorist threats emanate from there, author and former Bush administration speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen told Newsmax in an exclusive interview on Monday.

In a speech to his nation’s Parliament on Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani warned his nation could “retaliate with full force” against a future U.S. operation such as the one that took out Osama bin Laden.

Thiessen, author of The New York Times bestseller “Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack,” told Newsmax that working with Pakistan requires a delicate balancing act.

The United States needs nuclear-armed Pakistan’s help in the war on terror, Thiessen said. But he added “there are going to be times when we have to do what we have to do, as was the case in the bin Laden operation. It’s a tightrope we have to walk.”

“We need to make clear to them that if we find bin Laden -- and by the way hiding right next to the Pakistani version of West Point -- we're going to take him out,” Thiessen told Newsmax.

U.S.-Pakistani relations have deteriorated sharply over the past three years, in part due to the sharp escalation in U.S. drone attacks. Thiessen told Newsmax drone attacks are rising because the administration has no workable policy for apprehending, detaining, and interrogating terrorists.

“One of the reasons you’ve seen such an escalation in the Predator strikes is you’ve seen the complete elimination of live captures,” he said. “…They’re killing them rather than capturing them.

“..So when they get a bead on a terrorist they kill them -- which is better than letting them go. But you vaporize all the intelligence in their brain when you do that,” he said.

Ironically Obama shut down the program responsible for generating the intelligence that arguably led to his biggest foreign-policy triumph. Obama Attorney General Eric Holder branded enhanced interrogations as “torture.”

According to Thiessen, since President Obama has become president the United States has yet to capture a single high-value detainee other than prisoners captured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

But human intelligence continues to be crucial. That was highlighted by the administration’s request last week to Pakistani authorities for permission to interview bin Laden’s wives. They would presumably know the identity of any Pakistanis who may have routinely visited bin Laden’s compound.

So far, Pakistani authorities have temporized on granting that access, thereby exacerbating suspicions that Pakistani officials could have something to hide.

Several other intelligence experts, including former CIA Director Michael Hayden and current CIA Director Leon Panetta, have indicated so-called enhanced interrogations played an important role in putting the crosshairs on bin Laden.

Obama national security adviser John Brennan, however, has insisted that the intelligence obtained from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [KSM] and others about the couriers that led analysts to bin Laden’s location was not gained during waterboarding or enhanced interrogation.

That assertion may technically be correct, said Thiessen. But it intentionally exploits a widespread misconception about how waterboarding worked, he said.

“We actually never used waterboarding to gain intelligence,” Thiessen explains. “We used waterboarding to gain compliance.”

When a known terrorist refused to co-operate, he said, enhanced interrogations were used to persuade them to cooperate. During waterboarding, he said, operatives only posed questions whose answers they already knew. Doing so enabled them to determine if a suspect had shifted from a non-compliant to a compliant mode.

“There was never a situation where we would have asked KSM about couriers we didn’t know about during waterboarding. Waterboarding was used to take a terrorist, who was in a state of resistance, and bring him to a state of compliance in short order,” Thiessen explained.

Once a terrorist such as KSM decided to cooperate, normal interrogation would resume and new information would be gathered. So while it is true normal interrogation methods obtained the information on the couriers, it would be disingenuous to suggest the information could have been gathered without enhanced interrogation, according to Thiessen.

“What Brennan is doing is intentionally deceptive, because he knows how the program works,” Thiessen said.

Thiessen, a columnist who also wrote speeches for then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, said the administration should reinstitute the interrogation policy that was adopted by Hayden when he took over the CIA in 2006.

Hayden’s approach preserved waterboarding as an option on the shelf, but only if special permission were granted in writing by the president and the attorney general. It did permit other interrogation methods that Obama has outlawed as well.

Thiessen said the administration also must impress on Pakistan that playing a double game of cosseting terrorists on the one hand while mollifying the United States on the other simply won’t work.

“I think we need to deliver a very clear message to Pakistan: You are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” Thiessen said. “There is no in between. They need to get that message very clearly.”

Until the U.S. capability to capture, detain, and effectively interrogate terror suspects is restored, Thiessen said, the homeland will remain vulnerable to attack.

“When your enemy is 19 guys with box cutters, satellite imagery doesn’t work,” he told Newsmax. “The only way you’re going to find out what their plans are is to get the terrorists to tell you. And that’s why we’re in danger today.”


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