Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Where Will It End?

Rep. Peter Hoekstra of the House Intelligence Committee sends a warning shot over the bow of his colleagues who are anxious to convene a “truth commission” on the interrogation memos. He calls for “a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques,” a release of the memos requested by Dick Cheney, and an assessment of  “the likely damage done to U.S. national security by Mr. Obama’s decision to release the memos over the objections of Mr. Panetta and four of his predecessors.”

Hoekstra adds:

Perhaps we need an investigation not of the enhanced interrogation program, but of what the Obama administration may be doing to endanger the security our nation has enjoyed because of interrogations and other antiterrorism measures implemented since Sept. 12, 2001.

This is the inescapable direction in which we’re headed. Congressman accusing congressman, official blaming official, lawyer attacking lawyer. And what is the offense, what is the statute or charge all this is based on? It isn’t at all clear, even the mainstream media and academics concede. How do we know if someone stepped over the line if the accusers won’t define “torture”? And the result would be unclear — prosecutions maybe, or just the lasting stench of ruined careers. Then we will see how many talented people sign up for government service and how many flee.

The question remains whether this is what the president intended (abandoning his “look forward not back” pronouncement twenty-four hours earlier) or whether he simply committed the worst presidential gaffe in recent memory by musing aloud about the potential for hearings. In any case, it seems impossible to turn back now.

So we’ll be anxious to learn the answers to Hoekstra’s questions and the hundred like them that will come from every member of congress, not to mention from dozens of ex-officials and operatives who will rightly demand access to this information in order to formulate their own defenses. They will be allowed to defend themselves as they explain not only their own but their inquisitors’ involvement in reviewing the interrogation policies, right?