President Obama’s decision to release the so-called “torture memos” remains controversial in the national security community. Obama overruled the advice of his CIA director, Leon Panetta, and four prior CIA directors by releasing the details of the enhanced interrogation program. Former CIA director Michael Hayden immediately responded by saying the action will make it more difficult for the CIA to defend the nation.
As former CIA Director Hayden says, “”The (harsh) techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA … fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of Al Qaeda came from those interrogations.”
The U.S. does not torture. The memos laid out the extent of exactly how far we could go before it would become torture, because it was important not to cross a line into torture. A major hold up in releasing prisoners from Guantanamo has been obtaining guarantees from other governments that they will not torture prisoners who are returned to them. Guantanamo and prisons in Afghanistan are completely consistent with our international obligations. The United States has violated no laws.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney is asking why President Obama simultaneously withheld other classified memos demonstrating what those interrogation techniques produced. They “show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified, and I am formally requesting it,” Cheney said.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the former Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said it was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, “because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.”
It has also been revealed that the CIA briefed top lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees more than 30 times about this program. The techniques are now controversial but they were not in years past. Congress could have killed the program at any time by withholding funding.
Dennis Blair, the National Intelligence Director, in a memo last week to his staff, also said Congress had been notified of the tactics: “From 2002 to 2006 when the use of these techniques ended, the leadership of the CIA repeatedly reported their activities both to Executive Branch policymakers and to members of Congress, and received permission to continue to use the techniques.”
Blair got it right when he noted how easy it is to condemn this “on a bright sunny day in April 2009.” In addition, George Tenet, who served as CIA director under Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, believes the enhanced interrogations program saved lives.
The tactics outlined in the CIA memos are the same techniques used on Americans for training purposes. Everything that was done in this program are tactics that our own people go through in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Evasion) training. We did not torture our own people.