Top White House officials denied Sunday that President Obama’s release of top-secret memos hurt national security by giving terrorists details of U.S. interrogation techniques - as charged by the former head of the CIA and four of his predecessors - saying the information was already public.
“Virtually everything that was in those memos has been publicly reported,” senior adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“The New York Review of Books had a full catalogue of these techniques that were given to the International Red Cross through testimony. The CIA may believe that al Qaeda doesn’t read the New York Review of Books, but I suspect they know what’s going on,” he said.
Totaling 126 pages, the four memos - issued under the Bush administration - revealed explicit details, including clinical explanations of how interrogation techniques were performed and the intended effects on the detainees.
Their release was welcomed by civil liberties groups, but drew rebukes from former intelligence officials who said doing so puts the nation at risk.
“The definition of ‘top secret’ is information which, if revealed, would cause grave harm to U.S. security,” former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There’s a difference of leaks, and rumors, and rumors of this and that, and going out there and defining in an absolutely clear way what the limits are.”
But by publicly distancing itself from the Bush administration’s approach to interrogation, the Obama administration has “enhanced America’s image abroad,” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“These were tools used by terrorists, propaganda tools, to recruit new terrorists,” he said.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said the public has a right to see the memos.
“I think transparency is not something that comes easily to CIA directors, but it’s very important to this president,” she said on Fox.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, called the move a “huge tactical and strategic mistake, done for political reasons.”
“I don’t care to be transparent and open to al Qaeda,” he said. “To release the Army Field Manual, which is online, and to say, ‘That’s the only interrogation technique available to the United States, here it is, go learn about it,’ is a mistake.”
Mr. Hayden disputed claims by critics that the techniques - which Mr. Obama banned on his second day as president - did not work.
Specifically, he rebutted a story in Friday’s New York Times that suggested enhanced interrogation techniques did not yield valuable information in the case of a prisoner named Abu Zubaydah.
“Most of the people who oppose these techniques want to be able to say, ‘I don’t want my nation doing this … and they didn’t work anyway.’ That back half of the sentence isn’t true,” he said. “The use of these techniques against these terrorists really did make us safer, it really did work.”
No one among the lawmakers or administration officials interviewed said CIA officers should be prosecuted, though Mrs. McCaskill said the government should question the lawyers who dispensed the advice.
Nevertheless, Mr. Hayden said the release of the documents puts CIA officers in a “horrible position.”
“If you were to go to an agency officer today and say, ‘Go do this,’ and [they’d respond] ‘Why am I authorized to do this?’ That agency officer’s going to say, ‘Yeah, I know, but I see what’s going on here now. Have you run it by the ACLU? What’s the New York Times editorial board think? Have you discussed this with any potential presidential candidates?’ ” he said.
• Kara Rowland can be reached at email@example.com.
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