What do we have to show for that tab? Two wars that continue to occupy 150,000 troops and tie up a quarter of our defense budget; a bloated homeland-security apparatus that has at times pushed the bounds of civil liberty; soaring oil prices partially attributable to the global war on bin Laden’s terrorist network; and a chunk of our mounting national debt, which threatens to hobble the economy unless lawmakers compromise on an unprecedented deficit-reduction deal.
All of that has not given us, at least not yet, anything close to the social or economic advancements produced by the battles against America’s costliest past enemies.
[The] war on terror lost moral authority and became a gift to al-Qaida propagandists. The fact that the most effective counterterrorism is always closely focused on the prosecution of terrorist conspirators appeared to be of no concern in the Pentagon or Whitehall.
The Allied powers could easily have taken every Nazi war criminal they found and summarily executed them without many people caring. But they didn’t do that, and the reason they didn’t is because how the Nazis were punished would determine not only the character of the punishing nations, but more importantly, would set the standards for how future punishment would be doled out.
[Waterboarding] and other abusive techniques failed to get the name out of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi. A New York Times account has both men claiming not to know even the courier’s nom de guerre, which actually may have counted as a kind of confirmation by omission in this case. That says something about the limits of brute force in interrogation.
It now appears likely that several detainees had information about a key al Qaeda courier — information that might have led authorities directly to bin Laden years ago. But subjected to physical and psychological brutality, “they gave us the bare minimum amount of information they could get away with to get the pain to stop, or to mislead us…”