Jonah Goldberg

Less than five minutes.

That's the total amount of time the United States has waterboarded terrorist detainees. How many detainees? Three. Who were these detainees?

One was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, "the principle architect of the 9/11 attacks" according to the 9/11 Report, and the head of al-Qaeda's "military committee." Linked to numerous terror plots, he is believed to have financed the first World Trade Center bombing, helped set up the courier system that resulted in the infamous Bali bombing, and cut off Danny Pearl's head.

A second was Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the head of al-Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf. He allegedly played a role in the 2000 millennium terror plots and was the mastermind behind the USS Cole attack that killed 17 Americans.

The third was Abu Zubaydah, said to be Osama bin Laden's top man after Ayman al Zawahri and al-Qaeda's chief logistics operative. It is believed that Zubaydah essentially ran al-Qaeda's terror camps and recruitment operations. After he was waterboarded, Zubaydah reportedly offered intelligence officers a treasure trove of critical information. He was waterboarded just six months after the 9/11 attacks and while the anthrax scare was still ongoing.

John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who witnessed the interrogation, told ABC's Brian Ross: "The threat information that he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."

He divulged, according to Kiriakou, "al-Qaeda's leadership structure" and identified high-level terrorists the CIA didn't know much, if anything, about. It's been suggested that Zubaydah and al-Nashiri's confessions in turn led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

And that's it. Less than five minutes, three awful men, five years ago.

(We don't know how long, exactly, each was waterboarded, but reports suggest that Zubaydah lasted between 30 and 35 seconds, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed lasted the longest - between 90 seconds and three minutes.)

The reason these facts are important is simple. For several years, human rights groups, the media and partisan opponents of the Bush administration and the war on terror have tried to portray the U.S. as a "torture state" that has completely abdicated its decency, its principles and even its soul under the leadership of a president who believes in an ominous-sounding "unitary executive" branch. We've been barreling down a "slippery slope," making America indistinguishable from Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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