". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I am at a loss for words at President Obama's decision to release CIA memos detailing interrogation techniques used on terror suspects. Regardless of one's opinion on the techniques themselves, publicizing them to the world makes no sense at all. If Obama believes they are torture and should not be used (a view that is highly debatable), fine: issue a presidential order to that effect. But why not keep it internal? Why shout it to our enemies? What he has done is to make us more vulnerable to attack by showing a big part of our "hand" to the other side.

Here's what Charles Krauthammer had to say about Obama's action on Fox News:

I think it does harm the United States. It gives away a lot of our techniques.

And I disagree. I don't see it as a dark chapter in our history at all.

You look at some of these techniques — holding the head, a face slap, or deprivation of sleep. If that is torture, the word has no meaning.

I would concede that one technique, simulated drowning, you could call torture, even though the memos imply that legally it didn't meet that definition. I'm agnostic on the legalism….

But let's concede that it's a form of torture. I think it's perfectly reasonable to use it in two cases, that the ticking time bomb, if an innocent is at risk and you've got a terrorist that has information that would save that innocent and isn't speaking. That's an open and shut easy case.

A second case is a high-level Al Qaeda operative, a terrorist, who knows names and places and numbers and plans and safe houses and all that, and by using techniques to get information, you're saving lives.

If I have to weigh on the one hand the numberless and nameless lives saved in America by the use of these techniques, and we had a CIA director who told us that these techniques on these high-level terrorists was extremely effective in giving us information.

If you have to weigh on one hand that the numberless and nameless lives saved, against the 30 seconds or so of terror in the eyes of a terrorist who is suffering this technique, I think the moral choice is easy.

It's not a dark chapter in our history. It is a successful one. We have not had a second attack, and largely because of this.

There are many--people like Vice-President Dick Cheney and former CIA chief Scott Hayden--who say that the interrogation techniques Obama has now nullified are responsible for thwarting numerous terrorist attacks during the Bush administration--including one that would have left a hole in Los Angeles as big as the one in New York. Announcing to our enemies that we are throwing some of our best weapons out the window can only increase their resolve to go after us.

I keep telling myself that President Obama wants the best for our country and that he just has a different--and in my opinion wrong--idea of how to go about it. But actions like this--actions that seem to have no regard at all for our country's best interests--make me wonder if I'm living in denial and if have elected a man who sees the presidency not as a sacred trust but as a tool for him to get what he wants. If it truly is the latter, then the obvious question is, what does this man want? And do I really want to know the answer?


Hannah J said...

P just went through survival training, including resisting torture, so this hits pretty close.

Kim said...

The biggest problem I have with these methods being used on a "suspected" terrorist is that it is easier to use them on a citizen that can be charged with terrorism. What happens when a family member is charged with terrorism and they use these methods to get information out of them? Are you still okay with it? What happened to the idea that you are innocent until proven guilty? And who determines the definition of terrorism and how easy is that definition to change? How accurate is that information really when they may say just about anything if the "interrogation" becomes really forceful?

These are all questions that have come up in my mind. As far as Obama somehow hurting our country by releasing these memos, I really don't see the harm. It doesn't show anyone anything since none of these are new techniques. I would much rather have a president who shares information with the citizens of this country than one who hides things, especially about a policy he is discontinuing. Ultimately we have no proof that these techniques have done anything to help, just the word of people who want to justify what they've done.

Cheryl said...

The point of my post related to whether the memos should have been released, not to whether the techniques should be used, so my comment is going to be limited to that.

Even if the techniques outlined in the memos were not new information, the specifics about how they were implemented in many cases had never before been made public. Now they have been. And even if the techniques in the memos are never used again--which may or may not be the case--other techniques will be. And for our enemies to have detailed information about how these were used gives them some idea of how not only these but others might be used. To give just one example: the memos talked about the use of sleep deprivation as a means of getting information and included the guideline that if the suspect started to show signs of hallucinating the sleep deprivation should be discontinued. This knowledge effectively neutralizes the use of this technique because now suspects know all they have to do is feign hallucinations to get the technique to be stopped. And even if sleep deprivation is never used again, our enemies have still gotten a look into the extent to which we are willing/not willing to go to get information. That is showing our hand. It is stupid and harmful to us.

Five or six CIA directors (can't remember the exact number) all advised Obama not to do this, including current director Leon Panetta. I don't think Panetta is trying to justify anything, since he only became CIA head in February. As for others trying to justify things, I guess we had better start with everyone who was in Congress during Bush's first term, because they were all briefed on national security concerns at the time and the techniques that were being considered for trying to get information about future terrorist attacks, and they all signed off on these techniques and apparently agreed that we the citizens did not need to know about them. My feeling is that they probably had darn good reasons for doing it and I am inclined to trust the judgment of that large number of people without needing to know all the particulars of what went into their decision. It makes me angry that this is all being laid at Bush's feet when it was a joint decision of many of our leaders from both parties.

As for transparency, I think there are some things our elected leaders should be transparent about--such as what they are spending our money on--and other things that I don't need to know the details about because it is not in my best interest to have the information made public. This in my opinion falls into the second category. I vote for people that I feel I can trust to make decisions that are in my best interest. I base that vote on the person's views as well as my assessment of his or her character. Once a person is in office, I think it's time for me to step back and let him or her lead. Then if I don't like what he's doing I won't vote for him the next time. But I think it's counterproductive to have him telling me every little detail every step of the way about what's affecting his decisions. There may be things going into the decision that I do not need to know, that in fact might endanger me to know. Now, if he's doing something illegal, that's a different story. But getting back to the issue at hand, all of these techniques were at the time designated as legal. So I think it's wrong and irresponsible of us now to be second-guessing them in this public way. There is nothing to be gained from it, and much to be lost.

Cheryl said...

One more thought, responding to your comment, Kim, that "we have no proof that these techniques have done anything to help . . . ."

It is difficult to prove a cause-effect relationship when the effect is something that didn't happen rather than something that did happen. So you may never get the kind of proof that would convince you otherwise. But I think no attacks in 8 years suggests that maybe we have been doing something right. And if we suddenly have an attack next year or that year after, I won't be able to help thinking that maybe we have started doing something wrong. Also, several of the memos named specific instances of attacks that were thwarted as a result of the interrogation techniques used. The actual suspects and the information they provided were named. And the fact that the memos were never intended to be made public but were classified communications suggests to me that they are more likely honest conversations about what was going on at the time than they are after the fact "spin" designed to justify actions.

Cheryl said...

I meant to include this in the previous comment. It's a pretty good, detailed article on the memos and their release. I recommend reading the whole thing.


Kim said...

You said, "Once a person is in office, I think it's time for me to step back and let him or her lead." then why is it okay to second-guess Obama's decision to release the memos? Just taking your arguments against what he's doing... Maybe there is information you aren't privy to that tells him this is a great idea. Maybe he is using this as a way to lull the terrorists into thinking one thing while he does another. Shouldn't we trust what he's doing and if we don't like it then vote for someone else next time?

Cheryl said...

Kim, you quoted me as saying "Once a person is in office, I think it's time for me to step back and let him or her lead" and then went on to ask "why is it okay to second-guess Obama's decision to release the memos?" First, if you look at the context of my remark you will see that I was talking about someone that I had voted for based on his views and my assessment of his character. I didn't vote for Obama because I had doubts about both, so it is difficult for me to step back and trust what he is doing.

Second, in my opinion this is not a matter of Obama taking the lead. It's one thing to decide that we are no longer going to use certain forms of enhanced interrogation. I think as Commander in Chief that is within his rightful powers, whether or not I agree. I am willing to grant that he has his reasons for making that decision, reasons that I may not understand but I am willing to respect. But releasing years-old memos is a different matter. It's not leading but looking backward. I think that as a nation we need to stick together and have a united front, kind of like parents not arguing in front of the kids. What Obama has done is like one parent getting mad at the other about some discipline that was meted out and then dredging up past history about why that was a stupid form of discipline rather than letting bygones be bygones and just moving forward with what he thinks is going to be more effective in the future. The result is to weaken the parental authority by giving the child an opening to play the parents off of each other.

You and I will probably just have to agree to disagree, Kim, and that's fine. But I hope this clarifies my thinking.

Kim said...

Thanks for trying to explain, I still don't understand where you ae coming from but that's okay. You're right we will just have to agree to disagree :)

Phillip said...

Here's 2 posts in 1. To Hannah, and then to Kim. (And everyone)


This does hit home. Peter has been in my prayers. My father was an intelligence officer who underwent similar training. When we lived in Europe, he got called in the middle of the night to go on a special op in East Germany. Mom had instructions to leave Malta in two weeks if Dad didn't return - and assume a new identity. The fear was that if Dad were captured, the communists would kidnap her or one of us kids in order to coerce info out of Dad. They would do this sometimes because of how well we train our operatives to withstand torture. So, they'd go for a soft spot - Americans' love for their families.

We live in a dangerous world. Thanks be to God for our military.


Where Cheryl is "coming from" is simply a desire to live in a safe country with trustworthy leaders.

Obama is not demonstrating the competence that earns trust. You say he might just be putting this out there in order to deceive the terrorists, but to what end? And even if that is true such duplicity makes him even less trustworthy, not more transparent - and it would just be more foolishness from him: the terrorists are being emboldened regardless of his intent.

We live in a dangerous world. President Bush understood this, and acted accordingly. Obama thinks we have enemies solely because of our own faults. He is acting accordingly.

It's the same problem Carter had.
It will yield the same results.

Lord, have mercy.

Casual Observer said...

Let's not forget, the decision to release the memo's wasn't a spontaneous random decision. It was in response to a lawsuit the government had little chance of winning.

And let's be fair, I don't think any American leader thinks the United States has enemies solely because of actions we've taken, but it takes a strong nation to own up to the moments when we've strayed from our most powerful ideals. That's a nation with MORAL authority.

And one final point, if this type of behavior took place in Cuba, Venezuela, Iran or North Korea, we'd be CLAMORING for all the information to come to light in the interests of justice and ensuring it never happens again. The Red Cross (the international standard) has ruled that these techniques are torture, why are our security needs somehow different from theirs?

But I can only say it so well. In 10 minutes, President Obama explains his rationale at the CIA, do watch, it may be reassuring (Primary Source).