Well, now he's talking, and you'd think that this would be embarrassing for the pro-waterboard crowd. It's not--not for Marc Thiessen, anyway, who argues that by not waterboarding Abdulmutallab, or at least using some methods of enhanced interrogation on him, we wasted five whole weeks:
This is pretty amazing. Thiessen is arguing that in wartime we can suspend the regular rules in order to interrogate quickly; he's also arguing that all scenarios are ticking time bomb scenarios. He's arguing that even someone like the Underwear Bomber must necessarily be privy to so much crucial information about imminent attacks that we simply can't afford to wait five weeks for him to decide to start cooperating with law enforcement. In a sense, he's arguing that even if a terror suspect doesn't, in fact, know anything at all outside of the plot he was attempting to carry out (which, from what I understand about how terror cells operate, might actually be the case), we have to inflict pain first and--fail to apologize later.
The mishandling of Abdulmutallab’s questioning is an intelligence failure of massive proportions. And it highlights the problem with the Obama administration’s approach to terrorist interrogation. The administration’s approach is built on a law-enforcement model unsuited for the challenges of the war on terror. Here is why:
In law enforcement, interrogators generally question terrorists after an attack (or in the case of Abdulmutallab, an attempted attack) has occurred; their goal is to extract a confession in order to secure a conviction. In such circumstances, patience is a virtue. The wheels of justice turn slowly, and interrogators have all the time in the world to build rapport with the criminal, or use the plea bargaining process to get him to talk.
But in a time of war, speed is of the essence. Interrogators must get information from the terrorist quickly, before an attack occurs. Their goal is not to secure a conviction; it is to stop the terrorists from striking in the first place. In such circumstances, patience is not a virtue; patience can be deadly. And time is on the side of the terrorist withholding the information. The longer he drags the interrogation out, the better the chance that he can buy enough time for his comrades on the outside to carry out the attack or at least cover his tracks. His incentive is to hold out as long as possible, and then to provide nominal or outdated information, so he can appear like he is cooperating when he is in fact lying to cover up the important details as long as he can.
Compare that to what seems to me to be a much saner view:
White House critics had been complaining for weeks that the administration's decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab in civilian court, to read him his Miranda rights and provide him a lawyer was a typically soft-hearted liberal capitulation to terrorism. Once Mr. Abdulmutallab was read his rights, they claimed, he stopped cooperating and robbed the U.S. of any chance of gaining useful intelligence from him that could be used to disrupt other plots.
Apparently not so. News reports this week say Mr. Abdulmutallab has resumed cooperating with authorities, in part because his interrogators worked hard to establish a psychological rapport with him and in part because they had the good sense to enlist his family in efforts to convince him to talk. Mr. Abdulmutallab's father, a wealthy banker in Nigeria, had contacted the American embassy there last year to warn officials his son was drifting dangerously into radicalism. No doubt the father's presence here helped persuade the young man, described as lonely, isolated and deeply insecure, to value his family ties over those to al-Qaeda.
Since then, Mr. Abdulmutallab reportedly has identified his handlers in Yemen and others involved in the plot, as well as provided information that led to the arrest last week of 10 people linked to a terrorist cell in Malaysia. That's exactly the kind of actionable intelligence officials need in order to save American lives.
But would Mr. Abdulmutallab's parents have been so willing to help if the United States had thrown their son into Guantanamo and commenced waterboarding him? Probably not.
We're told time and again by pro-waterboarding types that we have to be willing to torture, at least a little bit, because it "works." Apparently, bringing someone's family in to talk sense to him can work, too. Marc Thiessen says we can't afford to wait five weeks to get intelligence information from a suspected terrorist, that it's worth setting aside our moral principles to use enhanced interrogation right away. For those of us wrestling with the morality of this issue, that's not a very compelling argument.