Former President George W. Bush’s CIA director, Gen. Michael Hayden, has offered some surprisingly strong praise of President Obama for his handling of the war on terror and his “continuity” of Bush administration policies that have made America safer from new attacks.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV, Hayden applauded the new administration for helping thwart new acts of terrorism, as he offered disagreement on several Obama administration initiatives, including its criminal investigation of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.
Editor's Note: See the Newsmax.TV interview with Gen. Michael Hayden below
Hayden, who served as a four-star Air Force general when President Bush tapped him in 2006 to become the nation’s chief spy, is now with the Chertoff Group, a security consulting firm headed by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
“And I will say, to President Obama’s credit, he has used many of the tools that we used to continue to take the fight to the enemy,” Hayden said.
“The vice president just a few weeks ago pointed out how many senior al-Qaida leaders had been — the euphemism we use — taken off the battlefield. What that means is, we’re continuing to play offense.”
Hayden then cited a litany of policies Obama has embraced, helping to keep the nation “safer”:
“Number one, there has been powerful continuity in many ways between President Bush and what we were doing when I was director and what continues.
“For example, the American policies on renditions — the same. The American policies of taking the fight to the enemy, taking the leadership off the battlefield, continues. Indefinite detention of detainees continues. Military commissions continue to be in effect.
“State secrets has been invoked as much by President Obama’s administration as by President Bush’s administration in order to protect those things that are legitimately secret," Hayden said. "He’s pushed back on extending the right of habeas corpus to prisoners that we hold at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. These are all good things, all continuity.
Hayden also said the president is sending an unmistakable message to foreign enemies that the United States remains resolved to confront terrorism.
“The president had said very clearly we are at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates,” Hayden said, adding, “I would simply recommend that we keep that model, we are at war, as the core paradigm as we go about defending ourselves.”
While acknowledging the president has a right to change U.S. terror policies, he chided the administration for stopping C.I.A.-conducted enhanced interrogation techniques. The techniques used on terrorist suspects have produced “actionable and useful intelligence” and have, in fact, thwarted multiple terrorist attacks, he said.
He noted that once-classified documents the administration has put into the public domain have buttressed this assertion.
“So you don’t hear a lot of people saying now that the CIA detention and interrogation program did not produce actionable and useful intelligence,” he said.
Still, Hayden, who served briefly as CIA director under Obama, suggested that ending the techniques was clearly in the president’s purview. Hayden moved to stop the interrogation techniques once the order was given.
But Hayden was sharply critical of the Obama administration for reopening an investigation of those interrogation tactics, which some have branded as torture, and releasing information on the techniques.
In August, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a federal prosecutor to investigate CIA officers who might have abused suspected terrorists. In September, Hayden was one of seven former CIA directors who signed a letter urging President Obama to reverse Holder’s plan and not begin a criminal investigation, saying such a probe “would demoralize current CIA officers.”
Hayden told Newsmax: “This was a decision to reopen investigations based upon a CIA-IG (inspector general) report from 2004 that was reviewed carefully by career prosecutors, career attorneys in the Department of Justice — no political appointees.
“They came back with the decision not to prosecute, and then the agency took its own administrative action where appropriate, based on the IG report. Now more than five years after the original IG report, the decision is made to reopen the investigation.”
The letter from the former directors to Obama has apparently fallen on deaf ears.
“It’s unfair, it’s unwarranted, and frankly it’s counter to current mission,” Hayden said.
“You’ve got folks who are focused on what it is they’re doing, and then being hauled off to investigate or reinvestigate things that are years old and have already been adjudicated. It’s got to be a distraction.”
The former CIA chief also made these points in his Newsmax.TV interview:
- Hayden took issue with the administration’s decision to release information on the interrogation tactics that had been used under President Bush, but he said he doubted that Obama made that decision for “political reasons.” Rather, Hayden said, “I do think he did it for image reasons around the world. Frankly, I don’t think he needed to do that, and I don’t think it’s changed anything other than this: Once you make those techniques publicly available, they lose an awful lot of their effectiveness.
- “John Brennan, who is the president’s adviser for counterterrorism, gave a speech a few months into the administration in which John said we’re doing away with the phrase ‘global war on terrorism’ — and then proceeded over the next 15 or 20 minutes, to my eye and ear, to explain why we are in this conflict that covers the whole planet against terrorists. But I know what John was trying to do. Language matters. And this kind of war is so different, and so new to us, that sometimes our language fails us in terms of the incredible precision we need.”
- Some of America’s most important partners in the fight against terror were Muslims, Hayden said, and “this isn’t about Islam or against Islam, it’s about bad people.”
- Antiterrorism efforts have made it very difficult for al-Qaida to mount a sophisticated, massive attack on the level of 9/11. But we now have to be wary of the “lone wolf,” a terrorist such as the would-be Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
- Providing terror suspects such as Abdulmutallab with Miranda rights is a “mistake” for a nation at war. But Hayden believes the administration has learned from its mistakes, pointing to a policy now under review in the White House that would require the Justice Department to consult with the Homeland Security secretary and the intelligence community before deciding to give Miranda rights to terror suspects.
- Hayden opposes trying some enemy combatants in civilian courts instead of a military tribunal because he fears that suspects could use the civilian court system as a platform to expound their beliefs.
- “I’d have to say, through President Bush’s administration and sustained by President Obama, the American people have given their intelligence services quite a bit of their national treasure, their national energy, and most important of all, their children to come work at the agency. Do you realize that more than half of the Central Intelligence Agency has been hired since 9/11? And these are wonderfully talented people.”
- “In the first several years after Sept. 11, we killed or captured about 60 percent of the known leadership of al-Qaida.
“What we were able to do was roll back the al-Qaida infrastructure so that it became very, very difficult for them to mount any kind of attack against the homeland," Hayden said.
“We continue to need to take this fight to the enemy. And I will say, to President Obama’s credit, he has used many of the tools that we used to continue to take the fight to the enemy.
Editor’s Note — Read more on Gen. Michael Hayden's interview:
- Hayden: Al-Qaida Would Use Nuclear Device – Click Here
- Iran ‘Hell-bent’ on Getting Nuclear Weapon, Ex-CIA Director Hayden Says – Click Here
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