Release of 'Terror' Memos Puts Us All in Danger

Release of 'Terror' Memos Puts Us All in Danger

Jack Kelly - April 21, 2009

Barack Obama visited the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia Monday in an apparent effort to mitigate the harm he did by making public the so-called "terror" memos which described in explicit detail the coercive interrogation techniques CIA officers used to obtain information from captured al Qaida bigwigs.

Release of the memoranda - which were written by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 -- was strongly opposed by the four previous CIA directors (two appointed by President George W. Bush, two appointed by President Clinton). The current CIA director, Leon Panetta, did not object to the release in principle, but said the memoranda should have been heavily censored before being made public.

The release of the memoranda means that we are unlikely ever again to get valuable information from terror suspects, because now our enemies know the precise lengths to which our interrogators are willing to go to coerce information, and that those limits stop well short of actually causing the terror suspect injury.

"Public disclosure of the OLC opinions, and thus of the techniques themselves, assures that terrorists are now aware of the absolute limit of what the U.S. government could do to extract information from them and can supplement their training accordingly and thus diminish the effectiveness of these techniques," wrote former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former CIA Director Michael Hayden in the Wall Street Journal April 17.

The memoranda make it clear the interrogation techniques were legal. The Congressional leadership -- including current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - were aware of them and made no objection to them.

Indeed, most of the techniques are used routinely on the pilots and Special Operations Forces personnel who undergo SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training.

Despite this, some Democrats in Congress are urging that the CIA interrogators who used these techniques and Justice department lawyers who authorized them be prosecuted. Fear of prosecution in the future for actions that were legal at the time they were conducted will make CIA interrogators more timid, Mr. Hayden said on Fox News Sunday.

"The basic foundation of the limits of the agency's action has shifted from some durability of law to a product of the American political process," Mr. Hayden said. "That puts agency officers in a horrible position. The really dangerous effect of this is that you will have agency officers stepping back from the kinds of things the nation expects them to do."

The vast majority of Americans oppose torture...except possibly to prevent an imminent mass casualty attack. But the Obama administration is defining as "torture" anything that makes captive terrorists uncomfortable. That's insane.

The use of coercive interrogation techniques on a handful of al Qaida bigwigs shames us in the eyes of world opinion, apologists for the Obama administration argue. But is appeasing a "world opinion" that is outraged that the CIA would put a caterpillar in Abu Zubaydah's cell, but utters not a murmur when Al Qaida routinely maims and murders its captives more important than the safety of Americans? How can we appease such a biased and fickle world opinion? And what benefit is there to us if we could?

President Obama went to Langley Monday to assure CIA officers they wouldn't be prosecuted for the interrogation techniques used in the past, even though he described the use of them as "a dark and painful chapter."

"Those methods, read on a bright, sunny safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing," said the Director of National Intelligence, retired Admiral Dennis Blair. "As the president has made clear, and as both CIA Director Panetta and I have stated, we will not use those techniques in the future. But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos and those guidelines."

Mr. Blair speaks as if the threat from Al Qaida is now a thing of the past. If that is so, then what the administration has done may cause us little harm. But if al Qaida is still trying to follow up on the 9/11 attacks, President Obama has made it much easier for them.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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