WASHINGTON (CBS News) ― CIA Director Michael Hayden publicly confirmed Tuesday for the first time the names of three suspected al Qaeda terrorists who were subjected to a particularly harsh interrogation technique known as waterboarding, and why.Three people. The big bad U.S. government has used waterboarding against ... three ... people.
"We used it against these three detainees because of the circumstances at the time," Hayden said during a Senate hearing. "There was the belief that additional catastrophic attacks against the homeland were inevitable. And we had limited knowledge about al Qaeda and its workings. Those two realities have changed."
Hayden said that Khalid Sheik Mohammed - the purported mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States - and Abu Zubayda and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were subject to the harsh interrogations in 2002 and 2003. Waterboarding is an interrogation technique that critics call torture.
Waterboarding induces a feeling of imminent drowning with the restrained subject's mouth covered and water poured over his face.
How many people have been beheaded by Al Qaeda in Iraq? 10 or 15?
With all this hubbub about "torture" in Congress, and in the press, you'd think we had some kind of production line set up, where we strapped innocent women and children to waterboards at one end and drowned them at the other. But, as it turns out, not really. Three people. Three terrorists. That's it. And we got intel from them.
It's time to talk about torture. There are a variety of discussions to have about torture. One is about the Geneva Conventions, and who is covered by it. Another is about human rights groups like Amnesty International, and the use of torture as an issue to push their agenda. And there is another, about national sovereignty and security, which is the one that most concerns me.
I find it both instructive and highly annoying that this last point is so rarely discussed.
Fact: the world is a nasty place. It has always been a nasty place. It is only within the last 200 years or so that the idea of "human rights" even came into existence.
More to the point: other parts of the world don't subscribe to Western notions of human rights. And they probably never will. As much as the compassionate but naive Western liberal would like everybody to "just get along", any sober and rational look at the world has to conclude that it just can not ever happen.
It is a minor miracle, in fact, that it has happened at all, in any section of the world. And it hasmostly happened in lands settled by the British, who exported their concept of the rule of law along with Christian ethics and morality via missionaries. The combination then allows economic prosperity. I don't think this is by coincidence.
So it's very important to understand how new and uniquely Western the whole concept of "human rights" really is. As Westerners, some of us might like to pretend that our moral vision of the world is "better" and should be adopted by everybody else because ... well, just because. Good idea. Unrealistic expecations. I wish them luck in that endeavor.
What this means is this: when it comes to national security, the cost of being wrong is too high to play games that allow us to say "we played nicer than they did".
Some people would deny that this moral equation is true. I invite them to explore that in more detail.
This debate, more than any other, has convinced me that our nation is just not serious enough about defending itself.
And I say this as somebody who would not condone real torture. Like this: this is torture.