Commentary Magazine


What He Thinks and Why

Reuel Marc Gerecht writes about the release of interrogation memos:

Morally and legally, President Obama’s position makes little sense. If U.S. officials are guilty of serious crimes, they should be prosecuted. The notion that CIA officers should escape criminal prosecution because they thought they were following legal orders flies in the face of the historic understanding that soldiers must not obey illegal commands. It will be outrageous cowardice if a Democratic Congress, or the administration, decides to seek the heads of Yoo and Bybee and not seek the prosecution of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, and others higher up.

It makes even less sense to exempt CIA operatives “in the room” while leaving it to Attorney General Eric Holder to decide the fate of the lawyers and “middle management” officials who devised our policies. The dividing lines between those whose fate is presumably in Holder’s hands and those who either have been promised protection (sort of) by the president or those who occupied the highest levels of office are utterly artificial. This suggests a political methodology is at work: how much revenge can the administration enact without risking a backlash?

There is no logic by which the president and his spinners declare that the central concern is whether “laws were broken,” but then rule out prosecution (for good and legitimate national security reasons) for a select group of those suspected of law-breaking. Moreover, it is the role of the president not the attorney general to determine whether, for reasons of national security and political sobriety, we wish to go down this road. There is a slipperiness and fundamental lack of political courage in repeatedly dodging critical questions that go to the heart of controversial matters.

Perhaps the president needs an address to the nation to make clear what he thinks on these and other issues:

Are all the methods described in the memos (slapping on the face included) “torture” in his mind?

Does he think lives were saved by these techniques? If not, did Admiral Blair, General Hayden, and others get it wrong?

What is the rationale for exempting some but not all officials from the prospect of a witchhunt?

Does he fear those in his administration might face retribution in the future?

How can Leon Panetta credibly  face the intelligence community after the administration disregarded his advice about revealing interrogation methods?

The list goes on. This is one issue on which Obama cannot satisfy everyone, even in his own party. But the country deserves to know what he thinks and why.

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