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Release of Interrogation Memos Undermines U.S. Security

A congressman on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence defends the programs that have kept us safe for eight years.

by
Mac Thornberry

Bio

April 30, 2009 - 12:00 am

In releasing the Justice Department memos from 2002 and 2005 on the enhanced interrogation techniques, the director of national intelligence noted that we look back on these events from a “bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009.” This perspective could have been much different. The successful defense of the homeland over the last 8 1/2 years was not an accident or simply good fortune. It was the result of major organizational change (Department of Homeland Security, Director of National Intelligence), a variety of government programs (NSA’s terrorist surveillance program, CIA’s detention and interrogation program, among others), and a host of military and civilian professionals doing an outstanding job every day. Weakening the programs and failing to support those professionals is wrong and undermines the safety of our country.

Liberals, in their zeal to smear the Bush Administration, paint with a broad brush and essentially argue that Americans mistreated everyone we came in contact with in our efforts to fight terrorists. They try to link the misdeeds of 20-year-old MPs at Abu Ghraib with “torture” sanctioned at the highest levels of government.  It is a bridge too far as anyone who has read the countless reports stemming from investigations of Abu Ghraib can attest.

The CIA’s detention and interrogation program was run by professionals under carefully controlled conditions. If the released memos reveal anything, it is the strict guidelines and supervision involved in the interrogations. The memos also make a reasonable case that, under these carefully prescribed circumstances, the 13 specific techniques were not torture. Even liberals have a hard time arguing that a liquid diet or a facial hold is torture. Thus, they must group all of the techniques under the category of waterboarding. Reasonable minds can differ about the appropriateness of that technique, but under the controlled circumstances and doctor supervision, it bears no resemblance to anything done in North Korea in the 1950s.

It cannot be contested that the techniques were effective at eliciting information. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed refused to talk until the techniques were applied. He then divulged information about a second wave of attacks. Hundreds, if not thousands, of lives may have been spared as a result. But lost in the muddle of name-calling is the simple fact that only three detainees were ever subject to waterboarding.  A tremendous amount of essential information was obtained through the less controversial techniques utilized by professionals.

It is certainly the prerogative of the new president to say “we are not going to do that anymore” and thus assume the risk and the responsibility of taking away one of the essential tools we have used since 9/11 to prevent another terrorist attack. It is indefensible, however, for him to selectively release documents and waffle on partisan witch hunts. Whatever the press speculation has been, releasing the official memos that describe the 13 techniques hands al-Qaeda our playbook. One of the critical factors working in our favor during interrogations is the uncertainty of what is going to happen. That uncertainty is gone. Beyond that, the terrorist trainers must be quite encouraged. Now they know that if caught, they will get solid food, a good night’s sleep, and run no risk of being physically threatened. In other words, keep quiet and they can’t touch you.

The effect of all of this is to leave those on whom we depend feeling that they have again been left dangling because of political expediency. They will be less inclined to take risks, at least without consulting with a lawyer first. And other countries will think twice before working with us for fear of the political winds changing and their cooperation becoming exposed.

It is even worse for congressional leaders, such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was among the group regularly briefed on the program — including the specific techniques — now to call for some kind of “truth commission” when they know the truth firsthand. Speaker Pelosi and the other congressional leaders who were briefed on the program at least 30 times starting in 2002 deserve accolades for supporting the necessary actions to keep our country safe. It is sad that their willingness to defend the nation and support those who are on the front lines does not extend to a “bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009″ and beyond.

Mac Thornberry represents the 13th Congressional District of Texas. He sits on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
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