That was the most astonishing moment of today’s galling Obama press conference.
President Obama had earlier lectured journalists how to do their jobs, ripped Republicans for doing their jobs, and chided everyone within earshot for not wishing him a happy birthday yet.
After that descent into pre-teen self-absorption, the president was asked about whether CIA chief John Brennan had lied to Congress under oath when he said that the agency had never spied on senators and staff who were investigating the CIA’s enhanced interrogations of a very few al Qaeda terrorists.
Obama glided past the actual question, other than voicing his full support for Brennan — who either lied to Congress, or doesn’t know what his own agency is doing and does not check his facts before testifying — and refused to wade into that scandal.
His preference, as always, was to wade into an old Bush-era scandal rather than deal with a scandal involving his appointees in his administration. And despite the fact that Congress has not formally accused anyone in the CIA of torturing anyone, Obama did.
“We tortured some folks,” he said of the waterboarding that was used on a very few captured al Qaeda suspects.
That’s a lot to pack into four words.
“Torture” opens up the possibility that CIA officers who were involved in those interrogations will be prosecuted now.
“Folks” minimizes the truly horrible terrorists who were subjected to enhanced interrogation. They are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah. KSM planned 9-11, and had planned airborne terrorist attacks before that. Zubaydah was an al Qaeda senior commander who had extensive knowledge of ongoing al Qaeda plots after 9-11. They’re not “folks.” They’re the kind of enemy operatives who Obama regularly incinerates with drone missiles whenever he gets the chance.
“We tortured some folks” opens up a ghastly can of worms for the United States. It is a public relations victory for every enemy that America has. It tells CIA officers that their anti-terror actions, sanctioned in emergency today, will get them prosecuted tomorrow if a careless president comes along to condemn them. It may even bring up the specter of the Obama administration prosecuting high level Bush administration officials.
Obama will now ride off into his vacation. But the damage he has just done will be with us for a very long time.