Greg Sargent endorses my idea that the use, discontinuance and effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques, or EITs, should be debated at the upcoming confirmation hearings of Leon Panetta and Gen. David Petraeus. I don’t accept his characterization that any technique used by the Bush administration was “torture,” but we can agree that it’s a highly relevant topic. And Greg skirts the most interesting aspect of EITs — the use of information derived from them in killing Osama bin Laden — by stating “Panetta went on to preside over the CIA at a time when this country accomplished one of its leading counter-terrorism goals — one that didn’t happen during a pro-torture president’s tenure.”

So why did Panetta use the proceeds of interrogations he considered to be torture? And would he and Petraeus rule out use of EITs if they too had a high-value target with critical information? (Granted, this is less likely theses days since the Obama administration by drones and assassinations is killing, rather than capturing, terrorists. As a moral matter, I’m fine with that, but former CIA officials tell me that’s not optimal from an intelligence gathering standpoint.)

Panetta’s testimony concerning the ongoing investigation of CIA operatives previously cleared by career prosecutors should be interesting. At the time Eric Holder reopened the investigation Panetta nearly quit over the matter. He then announced that the CIA would pay for the operatives’ legal fees. (Did the United States do this? If so, what was the statutory basis for doing so?)

All of this can be probed in great depth at the hearing. It should also afford us the chance to hear from a key player. Time magazine reported:

Jose Rodriguez ran the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 2002 to 2005, the period when top al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi were taken into custody and subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) at secret prisons overseas.

He was emphatic in an interview: “Information provided by KSM and Abu Faraj al-Libbi about bin Laden’s courier was the lead information that eventually led to the location of [bin Laden’s] compound and the operation that led to his death.”

Likewise, in a 2007 interview on CBS’s Early Show, John Brennan (who later became Obama’s anti-terrorism adviser) said he believed waterboarding was torture, but thought that it had saved lives:

SMITH: You know, this all becomes such a giant issue because the president has gone on record so many times saying the United States does not torture. If we acknowledge that this kind of activity goes on, you know, what does that mean, exactly, I guess?

Mr. BRENNAN: Well, the CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9/11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as enhanced interrogation tactics, and only a small proportion of those have in fact been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures.

SMITH: Right. And you say some of this has born fruit.

Mr. BRENNAN: There have been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives. And let’s not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents.

It does appear, despite feigned ignorance by the left, that EIT-garnered information led to bin Laden’s killing. So the key question is for President Obama. In his “60 Minutes” interview yesterday he said, “As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn’t lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out. Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.”

So now that the information extracted from two high-value targets was purportedly used for this truly worthy purpose does he still think George W. Bush betrayed our “values” by authorizing EITs? Some would argue that anyone who would object to hand and belly slaps, a caterpillar and yes waterboarding on a Sept. 11 plotter to get information vital to protecting Americans should “have their head examined.”

At least when we last left this debate, the American public supported the use of EITs (even when defined as “torture”) to get information out of terrorists. Now that it seems that data was used to kill bin Laden, can you imagine what the polls will show?