Aides to President Obama explained his decision to release Bush-era memos about CIA coercive interrogation methods as an effort to promote “transparency.”
If Obama were really interested in promoting transparency, he would have released CIA reports detailing the valuable leads obtained through the very same coercive interrogation techniques, which potentially saved the lives of tens of thousands of Americans.
If Obama were genuinely interested in transparency, he also would have released the minutes of Bush White House meetings briefing Nancy Pelosi and other leaders of the House and Senate on the interrogation techniques as they were being implemented.
Instead, Obama referred to the interrogations as a “dark and painful chapter in our history.”
The memos from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel gave the mainstream media a chance to once again claim that the CIA approved “brutal” interrogation tactics, as The New York Times put it in a headline. In fact, none of the techniques that were authorized met the dictionary or legal definition of torture — inflicting severe physical or mental pain.
The media also trotted out the bogus claim that Abu Zubaydah gave up nothing of value after coercive techniques were used, when in fact after being waterboarded, he gave up Ramzi bin al Shibh, a member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle.
In turn, that led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 plot, and the uncovering of a plot to target the West Coast in a second wave of attacks.
Obama was under no obligation to release the material in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. It was properly classified information about CIA techniques that could be used in the future.
Even though he barred future prosecutions, Obama’s message to the intelligence community in condemning coercive interrogation and releasing the memos was clear: Even if techniques have been approved by the Justice Department, leaders of Congress, and the president, you take your career in your hands if you engage in any operation that could be considered close to the edge.
As former CIA Director Michael Hayden said in an April 17 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, the effect of the release “will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001.”
As Hayden pointed out, releasing the memos discourages foreign intelligence services from cooperating with the CIA for fear that their cooperation and secrets will be exposed.
By disclosing the techniques, Obama made it impossible for him or his successors to authorize their use in the future. That’s because, as with waterboarding, many of them were intended to create fear but not actually hurt detainees. For example, detainees were slammed against walls, but the walls were designed to give.
During his confirmation hearings, CIA Director Leon Panetta specifically left open the possibility that if the country were faced with a calamitous possible attack, he might go to the president to seek approval of additional authority to conduct interrogation beyond what is currently allowed.
There is a reason we have not been attacked in more than seven years: The tools George Bush put in place to detect plots, combined with the hard work of the CIA, the FBI, and the military, kept attacks from occurring.
By demonizing CIA officers who engaged in coercive tactics, Obama is misleading the American people and undercutting support of the intelligence community. In doing so, Obama is harming the war on terror — a term he refuses to use — and jeopardizing the safety of Americans. No wonder Panetta and four former CIA directors, including two appointed by President Clinton, opposed the release of the memos.
As FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has told me, al-Qaida’s aim is to wipe out the U.S. with nuclear weapons. Those who say that stopping such an attack by using techniques like waterboarding, stripping prisoners, or keeping them in cold cells is wrong are deluding themselves about the dangers we face.
In deciding to release the memos, Obama did indeed promote transparency, but it was about his own cynical motives: Obama decided to gain political points with the left wing of his party and the media on the backs of the men and women who risk their lives to protect us.
In my book, that is shameful.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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