Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Happens in Gitmo, Stays in Gitmo--Maybe

Usually a health club is a non-political venue. But some "expert" at the club claimed over the weekend that Cheney will be indicated by a foreign tribunal even if Obama declines to pursue any charges, and the former VP won't be able to travel overseas for fear of getting arrested. It sounded like just random talk, or wish fulfillment. And at this stage of the game, the former VP probably has had his fill of foreign travel anyway. But it does appear that European ambulance chasers may pursue legal action against Bush administration officials in what would amount to a show trial. Jurisdiction is, of course, another matter entirely.
European prosecutors are likely to investigate CIA and Bush administration officials on suspicion of violating an international ban on torture if they are not held legally accountable at home, according to U.N. officials and human rights lawyers.
In the meantime, Cheney has been making headlines on Fox News Channel:
Now that the memos showing the rulings of interrogation techniques have been released, the Obama administration should release additional documents that show what the interrogations yielded to make it an "honest debate," former Vice President Dick Cheney told FOX News on Monday [April 20].
The CIA Interrogation Memos, continued: Although the Obama administration earlier this week announced it wouldn't throw CIA interrogators to the wolves, in an apparent flip-flop it seems like the same legal immunity may not apply to higher-level policy makers.
President Obama suggested today [April 21] that it remained a possibility that the Justice Department might bring charges against officials of the Bush administration who devised harsh interrogation policies that some see as torture.
He also suggested that if there is any sort of investigation into these past policies and practices, he would be more inclined to support an independent commission outside the typical congressional hearing process.
Both statements represented breaks from previous White House statements on the matter.
When it comes to harsh/aggressive interrogation, or torture, or whatever terminology is currently applied or deemed appropriate, oddly enough it seems like the administration is not on the same page with its own intelligence chief:
President Obama’s national intelligence director told colleagues in a private memo last week that the harsh interrogation techniques banned by the White House did produce significant information that helped the nation in its struggle with terrorists.
“High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country,” Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the intelligence director, wrote in a memo to his staff last Thursday...
Admiral Blair’s assessment that the interrogation methods did produce important information was deleted from a condensed version of his memo released to the media last Thursday. Also deleted was a line in which he empathized with his predecessors who originally approved some of the harsh tactics after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Further, the CIA continues to maintain that the techniques worked:
The Central Intelligence Agency told today [April 21] that it stands by the assertion made in a May 30, 2005 Justice Department memo that the use of “enhanced techniques” of interrogation on al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM) -- including the use of waterboarding -- caused KSM to reveal information that allowed the U.S. government to thwart a planned attack on Los Angeles.
Former Bush administration official Marc Thiessen argues along similar lines in the Washington Post:
In releasing highly classified documents on the CIA interrogation program last week, President Obama declared that the techniques used to question captured terrorists "did not make us safer." This is patently false. The proof is in the memos Obama made public -- in sections that have gone virtually unreported in the media.
In a companion piece to the commentary that we referenced in a previous post, Con Coughlin, the London Telegraph columnist, again suggests that the new administration miscalculated in making those legal memos public:
I never bought Mr Obama's claim that his decision to release the former Bush administration's legal opinions justifying the use of robust interrogation methods was aimed at bringing "transparency". This was political point-scoring, pure and simple, and now his naive decision to play politics with the reputation of the CIA is causing him unnecessary grief.
There are always two sides to a story, even a deeply unpleasant one such as waterboarding an al-Qaeda suspect 183 times in a single month. On the face of it that sounds an appalling way to behave. But what if, as Mr Cheney is now suggesting, these brutal interrogation methods actually produced information that saved lives by thwarting potential al-Qaeda attacks?
The Instapundit blog raises a fascinating point: "With Obama talking about going after DoJ lawyers for torture memos, how many senior government lawyers and officials are currently worried that someone will go after them for things they’re doing on TARP and other bailout operations that may later turn out to be illegal?"

Update: In its weekly security update, Stratfor warns of a pre-9/11 mentality in the intelligence services:
Politics and moral arguments aside, the end effect of the memos’ release is that people who have put their lives on the line in U.S. counterterrorism efforts are now uncertain of whether they should be making that sacrifice. Many of these people are now questioning whether the administration that happens to be in power at any given time will recognize the fact that they were carrying out lawful orders under a previous administration. It is hard to retain officers and attract quality recruits in this kind of environment. It has become safer to work in programs other than counterterrorism.
The memos’ release will not have a catastrophic effect on U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Indeed, most of the information in the memos was leaked to the press years ago and has long been public knowledge. However, when the release of the memos is examined in a wider context, and combined with a few other dynamics, it appears that the U.S. counterterrorism community is quietly slipping back into an atmosphere of risk-aversion and malaise — an atmosphere not dissimilar to that described by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission) as a contributing factor to the intelligence failures that led to the 9/11 attacks.