Over at Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft has posted video of exiting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta discussing on television today how enhanced interrogation techniques led to the capture of Osama bin Laden.
My recollection of Osama’s death is dominated by memories of the spontaneous pep rally that occurred at the White House that night. As happy as I was to hear the news that we’d gotten him, the public reaction struck me as rather bloodthirsty and embarrassing. Yes, this was a man who inflicted massive suffering on our fellow Americans, but it would be difficult to imagine such fist-pumping over, say, the death sentence once carried out on Timothy McVeigh, or any other lawful killing of a mass-murdering fugitive. At some point, someone has to make clear that justice and vengeance are two very different ideas, no matter how related they may seem. The former does not permit all of the means that can be used to achieve the latter.
Which brings up the topic of "enhanced interrogation." There is plenty of debate over whether waterboarding is ever justified. But most people who encourage its use argue that its purpose is to gain information in cases of especially great urgency — for example, when the bomb has been placed, or a terrorist attack is imminent and the information sought might be able to prevent it. So what about “enhanced interrogation” in far less urgent cases?
I certainly don’t object to the killing of a fugitive terrorist who resists, but I am unaware of any credible assertion (let alone proof) that the killing of Osama prevented any specific plot from being carried out. Nor do subsequent events bear out the notion that the strike it allowed significantly weakened al Qaeda.
Osama was a perfectly legitimate target of opportunity, and it’s nice at least to believe (if it’s true) that we meant to take him alive if possible, as opposed to Obama’s general policy of killing terrorists so that we don’t have to deal with them after we capture them. But for those who do waterboarding as a legitimate tool of last resort for gaining urgent information, Panetta’s disclosure is not necessarily vindication.