December 20, 2005
Don't Let Congress Trump National Security

By Jack Kelly

There hasn't been a successful terrorist attack in the United States since Sep. 11th, 2001. Congress may be about to change that.

Several critical provisions of the Patriot Act will expire at the end of the year, because a Democratic filibuster in the U.S. Senate blocked their renewal.

Without these provisions, the FBI will lose most of its ability to track terrorists, the head of the FBI's national security division told the Washington Times.

The most important of these provisions is for roving wiretaps, said Gary Bald.

"We've had that capability for years on the drug side of the ship and frankly what it does is it cuts out the requirement for us to go back to a judge every time a drug dealer throws his cell phone into the river and gets another one," Bald said.

Before denying those who are trying to protect us from terrorists the tools law enforcement has had for years to wield against less dangerous criminals, Congress moved to make it unlikely we will ever again get useful information from interrogation of terror suspects.

Congress added to the defense bill a measure proposed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) forbidding "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of prisoners.

The news media misleadingly have described this as "banning torture," but torture has long been prohibited by U.S. law. What the McCain amendment effectively will do is to prevent us from treating terror suspects as harshly as U.S. service members are treated in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) school, or in Marine boot camp.

The kind of interrogation technique McCain says will be prohibited is "water boarding." (In water boarding, the subject is strapped to an inclined board, his feet above his head, and his face is wrapped. Water is then poured over him. This gives the sensation of drowning, without any actual physical danger.) Other forms of coercive interrogation are to make the prisoner stand for long periods of time; to deprive him of sleep; to shackle him in uncomfortable positions.

"The whole point of these sorts of interrogation is to break the human will without breaking the mind or body," said retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Buzz Patterson, a graduate of SERE training. "I can attest they work like a champ."

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the lead planner of the 9/11 attacks and al Qaida's number three when he was captured in 2003, allegedly lasted less than three minutes before spilling his guts after being subjected to waterboarding.

"Degrading" treatment could be defined as anything that makes a terror suspect uncomfortable, such as being stripped naked, or being interrogated by a female interrogator.

Why would any al Qaida operative captured in the future provide us with information, if his interrogators are forbidden from doing anything that would make him seriously uncomfortable, and he knows it, because Congress and the news media have broadcast this fact to the world?

It gets worse. Andy McCarthy, who prosecuted terrorists involved in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, says the McCain amendment could require U.S. troops to give to terrorists -- who are not entitled even to the Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war because they are unlawful combatants -- the rights accorded to criminal defendants in the U.S.

"They may very well have to be given Miranda warnings as well as free lawyers -- underwritten by the Americans they are trying to kill," McCarthy wrote in National Review Online.

The latest Congressional contretemps is over the revelation by the New York Times that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush authorized to the National Security Agency to listen in on telephone conversations between al Qaida suspects abroad and people in the United States.

Many of the taps were conducted without first obtaining warrants from the special court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act because there wasn't time to obtain them.

This was lawful, under both an exception in the FISA act, and in
Congress' authorization of the use of force after 9/11, and
congressional leaders were informed of the taps, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said Monday.

If Democrats think they can make political hay by expressing more concern for the "rights" of the enemy than for the safety of Americans, they're mistaken, said John McIntyre of RealClearPolitics: "Democrats have still not fully grasped that the public has profound and long standing concerns about their ability to defend the nation," he said.

Jack Kelly is national security columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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