We should praise the Obama administration, the CIA and especially our armed forces for the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.
But we should not forget what made the operation possible: President Bush's counterterrorism policies. Obama administration sources confirm that the coercive interrogation of three al-Qaeda leaders identified the courier who led the CIA to bin Laden.
USA TODAY's editorial page and other critics of enhanced interrogation do not understand the nature of intelligence operations, which aim solely to prevent attacks on the U.S.
Under Bush, the CIA subjected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two other al-Qaeda commanders, Abu Faraj al-Libi and Hassan Ghul, to coercive interrogation methods. Just because Mohammed and al-Libi tried to deflect attention from the courier doesn't undermine the success of interrogation. Their efforts to mislead, when compared with other interrogations, raised red flags. Information from all sources, when pulled together into a mosaic of intelligence, can snap the right targets into focus. In the days after 9/11, no president could afford to foreswear methods that were legal, even though tough, on the mistaken belief that anything beyond questioning amounts to "torture."
Bin Laden would remain on the loose today without this information. But critics of enhanced interrogation would be content to leave bin Laden alive in Abbottabad, Pakistan, planning more attacks on the U.S., so that Mohammed and other al-Qaeda commanders could stay comfortable in U.S. prisons. Why? Because they worry about America's standing in the world.
But neither the Guantanamo prison camp nor harsh interrogations has inspired allies to leave our side, businesses to stop trading and investing here or immigrants to leave our shores. Foreign governments are all too happy to criticize in public, while privately supporting our efforts, which only protect their security, too.
Past U.S. presidents rightly didn't allow foreign opinion to dissuade them from using the most effective means to victory. Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Japan to end World War II; Abraham Lincoln allowed Sherman's destructive march through the South. Appeasing foreign opinion is no substitute for the need to make the tough decisions that will defeat a determined enemy. Even if USA TODAY has yet to learn this lesson, may our newest president soon begin.
John Yoo is a visiting scholar at AEI.