CIA Chief Settled Waterboarding Debate

Wednesday, 02 May 2012 10:26 AM

By Ronald Kessler

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Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C. — The former director of the CIA’s clandestine service has reopened the debate on waterboarding.

In his book “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives,” Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. says that enhanced interrogation, including waterboarding, eventually contributed to finding Osama bin Laden.

michaelhaydenbush.jpg
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden pictured with Former President Bush.
(AP Image)
Democrats have countered that enhanced interrogation had nothing to do with ending the life of the al-Qaida leader.

Specifically, Senators Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, this week called the claim that enhanced interrogation methods helped the CIA find bin Laden by identifying his courier “misguided and misinformed.”

“Instead,” the two Democrats said, “the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location, through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program.”

Their conclusions were based on a three-year study, nearing completion, of the agency’s interrogation program by the intelligence committee staff.

But largely ignored by the media, none other than Leon Panetta, President Obama’s choice to head the CIA, settled the debate last May 3. Two days after bin Laden’s death, when he was still CIA director, Panetta gave an interview to NBC’s Brian Williams.

On World News Tonight, Panetta confirmed that the CIA obtained some of the intelligence that led to bin Laden from enhanced interrogation, including waterboarding.

Panetta added that “whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always gonna be an open question.” Of course, when the FBI apprehends a serial killer based on a tip or a fingerprint, some may wonder whether agents might have found him some other way — some day.

To a killer’s potential victims, such a debate would be absurd.

As for the Senate committee’s report, that is an entirely partisan project. Republican staffers have been excluded from having anything to do with it.

Ever since the first reports surfaced in the press in 2004 that the CIA had used enhanced interrogation, liberal-leaning media and Democrats have gone on a witch hunt to demonize President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and the intelligence community over the issue.

Similarly, since he condemned waterboarding as torture and banned coercive questioning in 2009, President Obama has used the issue against Republicans.

Invariably, Democrats have ignored the fact that only three terrorists were waterboarded, that no one has been waterboarded since 2003, and that our own troops are waterboarded as part of their training.

As normally defined, torture is the infliction of severe pain. While waterboarding causes fear because it simulates drowning, it is painless. Terrorists much prefer it to the Obama administration’s weapon of choice: a deadly drone attack.

Even though a Justice Department investigation had concluded that CIA officers who conducted enhanced interrogation violated no laws, Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder Jr., reopened the cases to determine whether prosecution was warranted.

He did that despite the fact that President Bush, the Justice Department, and key members of Congress had approved — or not objected to — the techniques. Holder ordered a new review even while acknowledging that he had not read the memos explaining why prosecutions had previously been declined. He has since finally closed the cases.

Obama has sent a clear message to the intelligence community: Even if techniques have been approved by the country’s elected leaders, 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 has told me, that has had a “chilling” effect on the CIA, to the point where CIA officers will decline assignments to fight terrorism.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is the New York Times bestselling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.

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