President Barack Obama

Between the 9/11 terrorist attack and the inauguration of Barack Obama, the CIA’s detention and interrogation program yielded intelligence that foiled several terrorist attacks, according to author Mark Thiessen. That program, according to Thiessen, uncovered plots for attacks on high-rise apartment buildings; the U.S. Marine Camp in Djibouti, the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles – the tallest building on the West Coast; and London’s Heathrow Airport and downtown buildings.

On the second day of Barack Obama’s presidency, he signed an executive order ending the CIA program. Marc A. Thiessen, author of Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack. explained why this decision compromises American security at a Heritage Foundation event on February 23.

Obama claims that his Executive Order #13491 put an end to “torture,” even though the Bush Administration had already taken waterboarding off the table by 2003. The interrogation techniques Obama eliminated by his Executive Order included “the facial hold, attention grasp, tummy slap, facial slap, a diet of liquid Ensure and mild sleep deprivation (a maximum of four consecutive days).” According to Thiessen, none of these methods constitute torture, or even inflict more suffering than training for a typical high school football team.

Critics say the interrogation techniques cannot yield good intelligence because the detainees will say anything to satisfy the interrogators. This criticism fails to understand the function of the CIA interrogations. Interrogators asked the detainee for information they already knew until he answered truthfully, demonstrating that he was ready to cooperate. Once the detainee begins cooperating, the interrogation ends and the debriefing begins.

Abu Zubaydah, a key al-Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan in March of 2002, was the first of only three terrorist detainees to be waterboarded. Afterward, he actually thanked the CIA for waterboarding him, and encouraged it to waterboard other terrorist detainees. He explained that waterboarding had lifted from his shoulders a moral burden.

Since terrorists believe Allah is ultimately destined to win, they are free to provide information to interrogators once they have made an effort to resist. This means that detainees will cooperate with interrogators once they have been given something to resist. Two-thirds of the 100 or so CIA detainees did not even need enhanced interrogation techniques to convince them they had fulfilled their duty to Allah.

Only three required waterboarding. One was 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who initially refused to talk. After being waterboarded, he lectured interrogators on al-Qaeda operations with a chalkboard full of diagrams. The information that he and other detainees provided saved thousands of lives, and that’s what the CIA’s critics have to deny, Thiessen said.

If they can’t knock down the effectiveness of the program, then they have to admit that the cost of their position would be thousands and thousands of dead people, men, women, and children, if we hadn’t waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And they won’t admit that, because it makes them monsters, and they want to paint us as the monsters. To argue that we should have sacrificed those lives in order to spare Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the experience of waterboarding, which is not torture, that’s the monstrous argument.

Kelly Miller currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: