David Rifkin and Lee Casey cut through the fog of feigned outrage on the interrogation memos:
All of these interrogation methods have been adapted from the U.S. military’s own Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (or SERE) training program, and have been used for years on thousands of American service members with the full knowledge of Congress. This has created a large body of information about the effect of these techniques, on which the CIA was able to draw in assessing the likely impact on the detainees and ensuring that no severe pain or long term psychological impact would result. The actual intelligence benefits of the CIA program are also detailed in these memos. The CIA believed, evidently with good reason, that the enhanced interrogation program had indeed produced actionable intelligence about al Qaeda’s plans. . . The interrogation techniques described in these memos are indisputably harsh, but they fall well short of ‘torture.’ They were developed and deployed at a time of supreme peril, as a means of preventing future attacks on innocent civilians both in the U.S. and abroad.
Those who express outrage over the techniques described in the memos would like us to believe that we gained nothing from employing them. If so, they reason, the enhanced interrogation techniques can be cast off without worrying that we will impair our intelligence gathering in the future. This is a convenient political argument, allowing critics to pose as moral superiors and to feel serenely confident that the rejection of these techniques will do us no harm. The facts are otherwise.
General Hayden on Fox News Sunday in a measured and impressive performance made clear that we did gain information and that release of the memos will curtail our ability to combat terrorism going forward:
“It’s difficult for me to judge the president,” Hayden said. “I don’t think I would do that. But [White House Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs’ comments [that ‘it is the use of those techniques, the use of those techniques in the view of the world, that have made us less safe'] bring another reality fully in front of us. It’s what I’ll call, without meaning any irreverence to anybody, a really inconvenient truth.”
Most of the people who oppose these techniques want to be able to say, “‘I don’t want my nation doing this, which is a purely honorable position,” Hayden continued. “The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer. It really did work. The president’s speech, President Bush in September of ’06, outlined how one detainee led to another, led to another, with the use of these techniques.”
And as for the notion that this information was already known, Hayden explains there is a world of difference between generalized rumor and a detailed explanation of precise techniques.
One searches in vain for some countervailing rationale which would justify not just halting measures which provided useful intelligence, but releasing the ”valuable information” in the memos. We have put in limbo the operations’ officials, who now must face the ongoing threat of prosecution and litigation. We have told terrorists precisely what they can expect. Aside from more moral preening, it seems the Obama administration has accomplished nothing. (“Transparency” was not achieved since, they claim, all was known.) Perhaps the president will take questions from the crowd when he visits the CIA today and will explain why putting them and future operatives at risk was so necessary. A townhall at the CIA would make for riveting TV.