Means To An End

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 2, 2011

As Ben Domenech points out, the methods by which Osama bin Laden was relieved of his earthly existence were positively Bushian:

There’s little question that the decisions Barack Obama has made as president played a major role in bringing us to this point. As a candidate, Obama said a great many things which gave those concerned with national security pause – particularly his promises to close Gitmo, to scale back interrogation policies advanced under President Bush and, of course, his entire candidacy was in large part motivated by his strong words against continued involvement in Iraq.

Whatever you may think of Obama’s domestic policies or diplomatic decisions, his approach to national security has been largely wise and overwhelmingly vindicated thus far. His reconsideration of the promise to shut down Gitmo, his shifting of the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed back to a military tribunal and his reliance on several key personnel under George W. Bush who may disagree (and indeed have disagreed publicly) with him on other matters – Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus chief among these, but hardly alone – have projected a far more stable, responsible and moderate national security approach.

This has not come without cost, mostly from Obama’s left flank, where many of his supporters have criticized him for going back on his word. But it’s now reported that the bin Laden raid began with the interrogation of a detainee roughly four years ago, and the CIA continued to follow this lead under Obama, in August discovering a compound which stood out in its neighborhood for a number of startling reasons. . . .

Specifics on this issue via Robert Chesney, who points us to this article by David Ignatius:

The trail that led to bin Laden’s hideout in the town of Abbottabad, about 75 miles north of Islamabad, began between 2002 and 2004 with the CIA’s interrogation of al-Qaeda “high-value targets” at secret CIA sites overseas. Several detainees mentioned the “nom de guerre,” or nickname, of one of bin Laden’s couriers.

Some of the detainees who confirmed the courier’s nickname were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the CIA’s formal name for what is now widely viewed as torture. This adds a moral ambiguity to a story that is otherwise one of triumphal retribution and justice.

The CIA spent years trying to figure out the courier’s identity. Using sources that U.S. officials won’t discuss, the agency finally discovered the courier’s real name in 2007, along with the important fact that he had a brother. In early 2009, a team from the agency’s counterterrorism center traced him to a compound in Abbottabad that he shared with the brother.

I am not sure how much “moral ambiguity” is involved when the results are the death of a mass murderer whose only regret was that he did not kill more innocent Americans while on this Earth. And while I oppose practices like waterboarding as torture, I am prepared to put aside moral qualms for lesser practices that may be harsh, but may not truly rise to the level of torture, given that the possible employment of those practices appear to have yielded excellent results. Indeed, if waterboarding led to the intelligence that helped kill Osama bin Laden, I may have to revise my opinion still further to consider waterboarding a necessary evil; one whose employment may help save countless innocent lives. Like Tyler Cowen, “I am willing to report results which may run counter to my views,” though because of the highly desirable ends of this operation–ends which were splendidly achieved–I do not believe that “we should be celebrating just a bit less” over the death of Osama bin Laden.

Equally notable, of course, is the fact that Dick Cheney’s “personal assassination team” was responsible for terminating bin Laden. I guess that all of this is why Jack Goldsmith will be so busy writing a book about “how and why the Obama administration embraced so many of the late Bush-era counterterrorism policies.” There is a lot of material for such a book, after all.

It should be noted, of course, that none of the Bushian means by which the Obama Administration was able to achieve the end of bin Laden are highlighted on Andrew Sullivan’s site at the time of this writing. Unsurprisingly, Sullivan only presents the side of the story he is comfortable with; the side that allows him to uncritically celebrate Barack Obama without any of Tyler Cowen’s reservations.

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