I must admit that when former Vice President Cheney said that the Obama administration’s policies on the war on terror were making us less safe I balked. Frankly, my view was that the Obama team had talked a good game of “change” for the benefit of their netroot base (e.g. “closing Guantanamo”) but done relatively little to actually change Bush-era anti-terrorism policies. That changed when Obama released the “torture memos.” And I am not alone in puzzling over why it was necessary.
It doesn’t happen often, but I generally agree with Joe Klein on this one. As he notes, there are powerful reasons not to give our enemies a road map to interrogation techniques and, more important, not “break faith” with CIA agents acting on legal advice. He writes:
The White House was aware of these concerns and I think Obama has taken some steps, in his statement on the release, to ameliorate the problems, but he and Leon Panetta may be facing a serious morale problem and a slew of retirements at a moment when the need for undercover work is extremely urgent, especially in the Iraqi and Af/Pak theaters.
But kind words and promises not to prosecute those who followed legal advice don’t really ameliorate these concerns. The damage has been done.
It’s damaging because these are techniques that work, and by Obama’s action today, we are telling the terrorists what they are. . .We have laid it all out for our enemies. This is totally unnecessary. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time- bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake. . . I don’t believe Obama would intentionally endanger the nation, so it must be that he thinks either 1. the previous administration, including the CIA professionals who have defended this program, is lying about its importance and effectiveness, or 2. he believes we are no longer really at war and no longer face the kind of grave threat to our national security this program has protected against.
In a must-read column both Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasy weigh in:
The release of these opinions was unnecessary as a legal matter, and is unsound as a matter of policy. Its effect 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.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that for the sake of some sort of misguided soul-searching the Obama team has made it harder for national security officials to do their jobs and has given valuable information to the worst of the worst of America’s enemies. Vice President Cheney, it turns out, was right.