The aftermath of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination finds many in the left and liberal community seeking to hold on to their worldview by praising the attack and its conclusion and by attributing it entirely to President Barack Obama. Doing so, however, presents this group with some major problems. First, it is now quite clear that the intelligence information that led to the successful raid was compiled over many years, and key intelligence was in fact gathered during the years of the Bush administration. Most important of all was the identification of Bin Laden’s “courier,” a man who on a regular basis kept the al-Qaeda chief in touch with the world outside of his million-dollar compound.
As the front-page New York Times report by Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper points out, intelligence agencies had been trying for close to a decade to identify the man. They learned of him, however, when “detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had given the courier’s pseudonym to American interrogators and said that the man was a protégé of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.” They learned his real name four years ago — when the government was led by the very men liberals despised the most, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
President Obama, of course, deserves the credit for planning the mission to take down Osama Bin Laden, and for giving the go ahead to the secret Navy SEAL team. As the report explains, “he had to approve the final plan to send operatives into the compound where the administration believed that Bin Laden was hiding.” I do not intend to take that accomplishment away from the president. But my point is simple: were it not for the prior work of the Bush/Cheney administration, President Obama would not be in the position to have put the operation into effect.
Moreover, it is also clear that much of the information that led to the courier’s identity came from the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the very mechanism that regularly led to charges of torture, abuse of power, illegal U.S. spying techniques, waterboarding, rendition, and questioning in secret facilities abroad where those interrogating the detainees did not have to abide by methods forbidden to be used within the United States.
In another Times story by Mazzetti, Cooper, and Peter Baker, the journalists put it this way:
The raid was the culmination of years of painstaking intelligence work, including the interrogation of C.I.A. detainees in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, where sometimes what was not said was as useful as what was. Intelligence agencies eavesdropped on telephone calls and e-mails of the courier’s Arab family in a Persian Gulf state and pored over satellite images of the compound in Abbottabad to determine a “pattern of life” that might decide whether the operation would be worth the risk.
Indeed, as the intelligence reporter Michael Isikoff, now with NBC News, reported yesterday:
The trail that led to the doorstep of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan began years earlier with aggressive interrogations of al-Qaida detainees at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and CIA ‘black site’ prisons overseas, according to U.S. officials.
It was those sometimes controversial interrogations that first produced descriptions of members of bin Laden’s courier network, including one critical Middle Eastern courier who along with his brother was protecting bin Laden at his heavily fortified compound in Abbottabad on Sunday.
According to Isikoff, early information about the courier for Bin Laden came from none other than “Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was subjected to some of the most humiliating interrogations at Guantanamo. Among the enhanced interrogation techniques used on him were being forced to wear a woman’s bra, being led around on a leash and forced to perform dog tricks and being subjected to cold temperatures that twice required his hospitalization, according to a later U.S. military report.”
Others have disputed this, but Isikoff, who wrote for Newsweek and covered the intelligence community for years, is known to have reliable sources and to be a reporter who does not write what he has not been able to confirm. He does say that no information came from waterboarding itself, but clearly, if at a later date Khaled Sheikh Mohammed or Qahtani came forth with solid information, one could clearly argue that the fear of being waterboarded again encouraged them to start talking and to give solid information. As Isikoff puts it, “After Qahtani was subjected to some of the humiliating interrogations at Guantanamo that later became public, he started to cooperate and, for a while, provided a wealth of information about al-Qaida, including references to the courier in question, the U.S. official said.”
Finally, Isikoff also writes that:
[A] senior U.S. intelligence official told NBC News investigative producer Robert Windrem that both Mohammed, who was repeatedly waterboarded by the CIA, and al Libi, who was aggressively interrogated but not waterboarded, provided the nom de guerre of the courier. Mohammed was among the “high-value detainees” subjected to specially approved “enhanced” interrogations at secret sites overseas, including CIA-run prisons in Poland, Romania, Thailand and elsewhere, according to U.S. officials.
As Mark Hemingway points out in The Washington Examiner, with a great facetious headline, “’Cheney’s assassination squad’ just killed bin Laden.” The top secret Seal Team Six, also known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, was singled out for attack in an article that appeared on the website The Raw Story, which quoted noted leftist journalist and New Yorker columnist Seymour Hersh, who during the Bush administration attacked the team as Cheney’s personal assassination squad. Calling it an “executive assassination ring,” Hersh said the following, as milblogger Bill Roggio summarized in a 2009 Weekly Standard article:
“After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet.”
Hersh then went on to describe a second area of extra-legal operations: the Joint Special Operations Command. “It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently,” he explained. “They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. … Congress has no oversight of it.”
“It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on,” Hersh stated. “Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.”
Precisely, and as we have learned today, Osama Bin Laden supposedly put up resistance, which led to his being killed, although U.S. officials including John Brennan acknowledged that Bin Laden was not armed, leaving it questionable what kind of “resistance” it was that forced the team to kill him.
In my estimate, one made by others as well, the team was instructed not to take him alive, in order to avert the possibility of scores of Islamists demanding his freedom, and putting Osama Bin Laden in the position of being a martyr for Islam, which he would obviously try to make himself. That today both Hamas, Hezbollah, and the armed wing of Fatah have all praised him as a militant leader and martyr makes it rather certain that this would have resulted had Bin Laden be taken alive. But in essence, that the SEAL team killed him means that they were indeed engaging in targeted assassination, precisely the kind that Israel is regularly criticized for by “human rights” groups when it eliminates anti-Israel terrorists in foreign countries by Mossad hit teams.
Hemingway asks, “Now that a Democratic President has employed JSOC to take out Osama bin Laden, will the fever swamps of the Left continue to assert that it’s just a Bush/Cheney plot to run around unjustifiably killing people?” The answer is yes, and they have already started.
Driving home today, I heard a report on radio news that a representative of Human Rights Watch condemned the killing of Bin Laden and said that what was now required was an official “homicide investigation!” (I have not been able to find this on the organization’s website, and was not able to take down the name of the individual who said this). But one can look no further than Glenm Greenwald’s at Salon.com. He writes sarcastically about Bin Laden’s killing that there is “nothing like putting a bullet in someone’s skull and dumping their corpse into an ocean to rejuvenate that can-do American sense of optimism.”
So, let us not pussyfoot. Obama ordered a targeted assassination of Osama Bin Laden, which is why most likely the first spin on the event, later retracted by administration officials, is that there was armed resistance and that bin Laden used his wife as a human shield. Victor Davis Hanson is correct when he writes: “It’s also easier to conduct assassinations abroad if the Commander-in-Chief is liberal.” You won’t find a Seymour Hersh article in The New Yorker condemning Barack Obama for using a secret assassination squad to carry out illegal actions. Instead, you’ll no doubt find a Hendrik Hertzberg column next week praising Obama for a great success, and for doing what George W. Bush was not able to. As Hanson writes, “Obama the law professor can assassinate bin Laden in Pakistan, dump his body in the ocean, and with first-person emphasis boast of our brilliant mission in a way Bush the Texan could not get away with.” Had the raid taken place during Bush’s tenure in office, we could be assured to find the pundits screaming about how the “cowboy President” hurt America’s image abroad by engaging in an inhumane military action that violated international law, as well as our Pakistan ally’s sovereignty.
So we are faced with liberals getting praised for precisely what would be condemned if a Republican and conservative had been Commander-in-Chief. Such are the times in which we live. So while we rightfully celebrate the justice that has been done by the death of the mass murderer Osama Bin Laden, let us also pause to give credit to the work done by the previous administration, which allowed Barack Obama to pull the brave action of our military off and to end with such great success.