Pressure mounted on President Obama on Monday for more thorough investigation into harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects under the Bush administration, even as he tried to reassure the Central Intelligence Agency that it would not be blamed for following legal advice.
Mr. Obama said it was time to admit “mistakes” and “move forward.” But there were signs that he might not be able to avoid a protracted inquiry into the use of interrogation techniques that the president’s top aides and many critics say crossed the line into torture. [continued…]
Researching his memoirs, former Vice President Dick Cheney is pushing the CIA to declassify files that he claims would vindicate the CIA’s use of coercive interrogation techniques that President Barack Obama has banned.
The request, which the CIA has not yet answered, sets up a showdown between the past and current administrations. Cheney can be expected to argue that the Obama administration’s publication of other files last week is a precedent for release of the reports he wants. Cheney contends that the information he seeks does not pose a threat to anyone, nor to intelligence sources and methods. [continued…]
In releasing highly classified documents on the CIA interrogation program last week, President Obama declared that the techniques used to question captured terrorists “did not make us safer.” This is patently false. The proof is in the memos Obama made public — in sections that have gone virtually unreported in the media.
Consider the Justice Department memo of May 30, 2005. It notes that “the CIA believes ‘the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001.’ . . . In particular, the CIA believes that it would have been unable to obtain critical information from numerous detainees, including [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] and Abu Zubaydah, without these enhanced techniques.” The memo continues: “Before the CIA used enhanced techniques . . . KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, ‘Soon you will find out.’ ” Once the techniques were applied, “interrogations have led to specific, actionable intelligence, as well as a general increase in the amount of intelligence regarding al Qaeda and its affiliates.” [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — Cheney’s interests — as always — are preeminently political, rather than legal or moral. He understands that the argument that the vast majority of Americans will buy without a second thought is that when it comes to counterterrorism, whatever can be demonstrated as having “worked” is demonstrably justifiable. If waterboarding yielded vital intelligence, it was warranted. Lives were saved. Cheney et al did the right thing.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that it provides an ironclad justification for torture. If the protection of American lives is a supreme good, it follows that success in extracting vital intelligence by torturing a terrorist suspect and thereby saving lives, would provide the necessary moral justification for torture — at least for those who subscribe to this ends-justifies-the-means line of reasoning.
Yet — and here’s the problem — the Bush administration cleaved assiduously to the line: “we do not torture.” Why? Simply because it was illegal? Laws can be changed. If the administration was unwilling to change the law then this either means the pragmatic argument didn’t hold — because torture is wrong even when if it saves lives — or, and this would be utterly contrived, the proponents of not-quite-torture believed that their “legal” torture techniques were more effective than illegal torture.
The question Cheney needs to answer is this: If torturing terrorist suspects can save American lives, do you support the use and thus the legalization of torture?
If his answer is “no,” then the documentary evidence of how CIA interrogations “made us safer” is irrelevant to the current debate. If his answer is “yes,” then this begs a further question: Why have you spent all these years arguing that the US does not torture, rather than arguing that the US needs the legal freedom to do whatever it takes — including using torture — to protect its citizens?
Of course, even if Cheney was to face such questions he would decline the debate since he knows perfectly well that torture is indefensible — unless it can be dressed up as something else. “We didn’t torture. We defended America.”