To choose an action, or refrain from acting, inevitably results in consequences. Not all of these consequences are foreseeable, though many seem far more “foreseeable” in retrospect than they were to those who had to make a choice at the time.
Osama bin Laden’s death
at the hands of U.S. special operations forces is a major success in
our country’s war against al-Qaeda. As a result of the Central
Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program and the intelligence gained
from detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a major fraction of
al-Qaeda’s senior leadership has been captured or killed since 2001.
This conclusion was inadvertently reinforced recently by
WikiLeaks’ illegal disclosure of more than 700 classified Defense
Department files on Guantanamo Bay detainees.
But first, the downside.
Their publication has
harmed our security and cemented the impression among allies that
America is incapable of keeping secrets.
Indeed. Who would trust their analysis, let alone their means and methods of collection, to a nation which cannot keep its own secrets?
But the material also provides
compelling evidence of the effectiveness of Bush administration
anti-terror policies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The classified files from Guantanamo Bay, particularly those on senior operative Abu Faraj al-Libi,
contain clues about al-Qaeda’s courier network and even mention
Abbottabad. Had bin Laden closely followed WikiLeaks’ release of these
documents April 25, it is unlikely he would have been there when U.S.
Navy SEALs descended into his compound days later.
Which fact tends to explain the late rush put on this operation. The sixteen hours taken to reach a final decision thus placed the operation in considerable jeopardy.
The WikiLeaks files reveal that those detainees who could not be held on
sufficient evidence were released or transferred to other countries.
Among those who were judged not likely to be threats, and released, a
sizable number returned to the cause they had claimed to disavow,
including a man who, post-Guantanamo, served as deputy leader of
al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen; a senior Taliban commander; a propagandist
for al-Qaeda’s online magazine; and multiple suicide bombers.
The documents should also disprove some myths that have dogged
Guantanamo and the reputations of those who honorably serve there. The
classified record, for example, confirms that three detainees who died
in 2006 were suicides — not, as some have irresponsibly alleged, victims
of brutal interrogations. The documents chronicle the lengths to which
military guards accommodated Muslim religious sensibilities: sounding a
call to prayer five times a day, providing halal meals and touching
Korans only with gloves — not flushing them down toilets, as was falsely
alleged by one U.S. magazine. There was no policy of mistreatment, much
The material in these files should have been the stuff of tomorrow’s
histories, not today’s headlines. I co-sponsored the Freedom of
Information Act in 1966 and have long believed that the free flow of
information is vital to our democracy, but the desire for transparency
must be balanced with national security interests. Bush administration
officials have much to gain from the release of this sort of record, but
for our country’s benefit it must come in the proper time and through