President Barack Obama said that while he wanted to see the whole truth come out about what kind of interrogation tactics were used on the Sept. 11 plotters and other terrorists, he did not want to see the matter become “politicized.”
But by releasing four memos from the Bush Justice Department providing CIA agents with guidance on working over the bad guys, Obama has ensured that it will be a dominant political issue for months to come.
By Chris Stirewalt
It would have been helpful for Obama if the memos were a little more shocking.
As it is, the Left remains convinced that there is more to learn about Dick Cheney’s dark arts. And those on the Right and in the middle are underwhelmed by the revelation of careful techniques being used on men who were trying to slaughter another 3,000 Americans immediately after 9/11.
While the president tries to gather support for polarizing proposals like global warming fees, nationalized medicine and the military buildup in Afghanistan, both the Left and the Right will eye Obama more suspiciously.
Obama may eventually be forced to choose between losing his liberal base or losing credibility with moderates and conservatives who hope the president proves to be serious about defending America.
So far, Obama seems to be leaning toward his base. The president said the memos revealed that America had lost its “moral bearings,” and suggested that criminal prosecutions for at least two Bush lawyers — one now a Berkeley law professor and the other a federal judge — might be possible.
Obama is looking to accrue moral clout and cast ignominy on his predecessor, but releasing the memos has achieved neither.
Because the practices detailed aren’t as bad as Hollywood and MoveOn.org have suggested, the memo release has only whetted appetites on the Left for revenge.
Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., is pushing for a full Senate probe, and the folks at the United Nations are hoping to get international criminal indictments against members of the Bush anti-terror team.
This would be a disaster for the Obama presidency. On the other hand, resisting the angry Left would eventually result in him becoming its target.
But even by releasing the memos and possibly allowing the prosecution of Bush lawyers, Obama may have already lost the tenuous rapport he has had with hawks.
Obama’s director of national intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, a foe of harsh interrogation, admits that the information obtained from the practices the administration abhors helped thwart attacks.
The new bosses at the CIA confirm that the information wrung out of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed was key to stopping a similar attack in Los Angeles.
Obama must remember that KSM and his comrade Abu Zubaydah were being interrogated as Americans felt gnawing fear and anger every day for months after the attacks.
Had the nation been offered a deal in 2002 that if KSM, Zubaydah and others were roughed up under a specific set of rules there would be no attacks for at least seven years, it would have been no contest.
Consider the practices detailed in the memos:
» Waterboarding for 40 seconds at a time, but “for a total of no more than 12 minutes during any 24-hour period.”
» Placing Zubaydah, Osama bin Laden’s enforcer, in a small box with a harmless insect “such as a caterpillar” that interrogators told him was poisonous.
» Throwing prisoners against a “flexible false wall” that was designed to make a loud noise and scare detainees.
» “Nudity, sleep deprivation (with shackling and, at least at times, with use of a diaper), and dietary manipulation.”
Many conservatives were unsure about where to stand on interrogation practices. What if Americans were putting innocent Afghan shepherds through a living hell, as those on the Left suggested?
These memos stop far short of anything that might be called torture — especially in the face of an imminent attack. Instead of making conservatives ashamed, they are feeling vindicated.
Americans assume their commander in chief knows more about the threats facing the country than they do and are likely giving Obama the benefit of the doubt on matters of intelligence.
But with his repeated laments about American immorality, he strains his credibility with Democrats and Republicans alike who came to have a clear-eyed understanding of the threat from radical Islam in the fall of 2001.
In time, Obama will wish that he had fought to keep the memos secret.