Senate Democrats and President Obama have moved up to a whole new level of desperate.
On Tuesday, Democrats in the Senate, who will lose control of the chamber in just three weeks, released a report focused on interrogation techniques — during the administration of George W. Bush.
Yes, Mr. Obama is all about transparency, as long as it’s not about his administration. Despite warnings from top Obama officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, that release of the once-classified report would endanger Americans abroad, the president demanded that the United States explain its actions to — terrorists.
In some ways, the interrogation techniques detailed in the 500-page report were brutal. The CIA used waterboarding, sleep deprivation, isolation, starvation to break enemy combatants captured in the fields of war. One suspect never charged with any crime died of hypothermia. The Central Intelligence Agency also set up secret “black sites” in numerous places around the world where captives were held, sometimes for years.
The reason for the “in some ways” qualifier above is that the techniques were set up just six days after Islamic terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing 3,000 people. While Mr. Obama on Tuesday said “what’s clear is that the CIA set up something very fast, without a lot of forethought to what the ramifications might be,” the fact remains that in the dangerous days after Sept. 11, 2001, America was, for the first time, at war with a foe that felt no remorse in targeting U.S. civilians, even children.
That was a different world back then, in the fall of 2001. Americans, shocked that terrorists had dropped the two biggest buildings in New York City, feared another terrorist attack at any moment — America was a ticking time bomb. The stock markets shut down and plunged more than 1,000 points in the weeks that followed. But after the shock came anger, and the feeling was exactly as Mr. Bush had said three days after the attack: “The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”
So there wasn’t a doubt for many when the notion of getting information from bloodthirsty terrorists — in whatever way necessary — came up. Not torture, mind you — no stretching on the rack, no pulling out fingernails, but rather “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Leading lawmakers were in on the discussions and, with little dissent, agreed with the administration. The fear ebbed and the terror threat against the homeland dissipated.
But the upshot of the report released Tuesday by the Democrat-controlled Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, gleefully parroted all day by the mainstream media beholden to Mr. Obama, was that the enhanced techniques employed by CIA operatives had virtually no impact — and certainly didn’t lead to any “actionable” intelligence from terrorists. The cables and networks implied that the CIA was out of control and, worse, operating far outside the confines of American justice, let alone the Geneva Conventions — all for nothing.
Not, though, according to Republicans on the Senate committee. They released a 167-page report of their own, saying the Democrats’ report was fueled by “political motivations” and simply arrived at a preordained conclusion desired by the majority party in the Senate.
“We have no doubt that the CIA’s detention program saved lives and played a vital role in weakening [al Qaeda] while the program was in operation,” the senators said.
Meanwhile, six former CIA directors and deputy directors said the report was riddled with errors and Senate Democrats didn’t even interview any CIA officers involved with the program. They said the report, which cost $40 million to produce, “defies credulity by saying that the interrogation program did not produce any intelligence value” and that, in fact, the interrogation techniques “saved thousands of lives.”
The real point of the report, however, was not to blame Mr. Bush, but rather to say he was clueless about the program. A New York Times story alleged that Mr. Bush was purposely kept in the dark and that he was “once again been misinformed” about the effectiveness of the program (sticking with the meme that the Yale and Harvard graduate is a Texas hayseed).
Yet even that was wrong. He wrote in his book “Decision Points”: “I knew that an interrogation program this sensitive and controversial would one day become public. When it did, we would open ourselves up to criticism that America had compromised our moral values. I would have preferred that we get the information another way. But the choice between security and values was real. Had I not authorized waterboarding on senior al Qaeda leaders, I would have had to accept a greater risk that the country would be attacked. In the wake of 9/11, that was a risk I was unwilling to take.”
And he closed with this: “My most solemn responsibility as president was to protect the country. I approved the use of the interrogation techniques. The new techniques proved highly effective.”
Perhaps there’s a lesson in that passage for the current president as Islamic terrorists continue to behead Americans. He planned to “talk” with America’s enemies, but sometimes, a president needs to do more to protect Americans.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.