Now then, the most news from the press conference likely came from President Obama's answer to the torture question. He said that he believes that waterboarding is torture. Some, like Sean Hannity, have condemned the president for this answer though Hannity seems to find new and creative ways to criticize the president. I have no problem with this answer. He was asked a direct question about a personal opinion. In his personal opinion, waterboarding is torture. Torture is not very strictly defined. The UN defines it as "sustained severe pain". That can mean all sorts of things.
It was however what he said next that epitomizes President Obama at his worst.
I have read the documents. Now they have not been officially declassified and released. And so I don't want to go to the details of them. But here's what I can tell you, that the public reports and the public justifications for these techniques, which is that we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques, doesn't answer the core question.
Which is, could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question, are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?
So when I made the decision to release these memos and when I made the decision to bar these practices, this was based on consultation with my entire national security team, and based on my understanding that ultimately I will be judged as commander-in-chief on how safe I'm keeping the American people.
Now, this answer is disingenuous at best and a flat out lie at worst. Under the best of circumstances there is no way to know if information that we received using waterboarding could have been gotten through other means. Beyond that, we know full well that the likely answer is that we couldn't have. That's because interrogators tried other methods on Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, and only after waterboarding him did he reveal detailed plots still in the works.
What we know is this. When he was first captured, he said that he was looking forward to meeting his attorney in New York. Initially, KSM thought he would be tried criminally and given all full rights of a criminal. Of course, the Bush administration was no longer treating terrorism as a criminal matter. Then, interrogators interrogated KSM for days. When asked about future plots, KSM simply said, "soon you'll find out".
Then, he was waterboarded and as a result of those interrogations the plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and a 9/11 style attack on Los Angeles. Now, given this evidence it's totally intellectually dishonest to say we would have gotten the same information without using waterboarding. The fact is that interrogators tried all sorts of other things totally unsuccessfully. Only after KSM was waterboarded did he give up these plots.
Then, President Obama further muddied the waters on the "torture" debate when he said this.
was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, 'We don't torture,' when the entire British -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat."
Of course, this was again either a naive or totally disingenuous statement. It's a matter of public record that Winston Churchill held secret torture prisons for Nazi SS officers. The torture debate comes down like this. Either you think that methods like waterboarding are torture and are unacceptable anytime, or you think that when lives are jeopardy interrogators need to do all they can to extract information.
Now, those that believe in the former often then make the leap to also say that waterboarding doesn't work anyway. That is a disingenuous and intellectually dishonest assertion. The facts speak for themselves.
What's worse about all of this is that they carry on a theoretical debate that is only allowed because of the real effects of waterboarding. Does anyone really believe that had we ever been hit again that there would be any debate about waterboarding? In fact, the only debate now would be over truly midievel methods of torture. Here is the inconvenient truth of those against waterboarding. It did work. As a result of its effectiveness, plots that would have killed Americans were stopped. As a result, our homeland has been safe since 2001. Because it is now nearly eight years, it is more acceptable to make a theoretical argument about "torture". Yet, this argument is only being made because the very methods being condemned were used, used effectively, and kept us safe.