Members of Congress calling for an investigation of the enhanced interrogation program should remember that such an investigation can't be a selective review of information, or solely focus on the lawyers who wrote the memos, or the low-level employees who carried out this program. I have asked Mr. Blair to provide me with a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques.Yes, let's remember that in the months after 9/11, members of Congress were perfectly fine with the program. Let's hear from them. The Washington Times reports on those briefings.
Between 2002 and 2006, the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees "each got complete, benchmark briefings on the program," said one of the intelligence sources who is familiar with the briefings.Ask those Democrats about why they didn't try to stop those programs back then if they are now so sure that such interrogations were wrong.
"If Congress wanted to kill this program, all it had to do was withhold funding," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the closed-door briefings.
Those who were briefed included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Rep. Jane Harman of California, all Democrats, and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, all Republicans.
The Democratic and Republican staff directors for both committees also were briefed, according to the intelligence source and to a declassified memo released Wednesday that detailed some of the Senate committee briefings.
And, of course, if we have hearings today, we should have the full information of what information the CIA gained from these enhanced interrogations. The American people can decide whether they think that these carefully laid out interrogations were indeed torture and whether the information gained made them worthwhile.
Any investigation must include this information as part of a review of those in Congress and the Bush administration who reviewed and supported this program. To get a complete picture of the enhanced interrogation program, a fair investigation will also require that the Obama administration release the memos requested by former Vice President Dick Cheney on the successes of this program.Finally, Hoekstra recommends that we also investigate what damage has been done to our intelligence capabilities by releasing these memos. Who knows if the Republicans in Congress can force those questions once hearings have been held, but if the Democrats are truly concerned about our nation's intelligence capability going forward, these are questions that should be asked.
David Ignatius wrote yesterday in the Washington Post about the effect on the CIA that Obama's release of these memos has had.
Obama seems to think he can have it both ways -- authorizing an unprecedented disclosure of CIA operational methods and at the same time galvanizing a clandestine service whose best days, he told them Monday, are "yet to come." Life doesn't work that way -- even for charismatic politicians. Disclosure of the torture memos may have been necessary, as part of an overdue campaign to change America's image in the world. But nobody should pretend that the disclosures weren't costly to CIA morale and effectiveness.In addition to damaging the morale of CIA agents who must already have had pretty low morale after the intelligence failures of 9/11 and Saddam Hussein's WMD program, there is also the damage to our efforts to protect against further terrorist attacks.
Put yourself in the shoes of the people who were asked to interrogate al-Qaeda prisoners in 2002. One former officer told me he declined the job, not because he thought the program was wrong but because he knew it would blow up. "We all knew the political wind would change eventually," he recalled. Other officers who didn't make that cynical but correct calculation are now "broken and bewildered," says the former operative.
For a taste of what's ahead, recall the chilling effects of past CIA scandals. In 1995, then-Director John Deutch ordered a "scrub" of the agency's assets after revelations of past links to Guatemalan death squads. Officers were told they shouldn't jettison sources who had provided truly valuable intelligence. But the practical message, recalls one former division chief, was: "Don't deal with assets who could pose political risks." A similar signal is being sent now, he warns.
One veteran counterterrorism operative says that agents in the field are already being more careful about using the legal findings that authorize covert action. An example is the so-called "risk of capture" interview that takes place in the first hour after a terrorism suspect is grabbed. This used to be the key window of opportunity, in which the subject was questioned aggressively and his cellphone contacts and "pocket litter" were exploited quickly.I would question Ignatius's assertion that we are better off for the exposure of these memos and whether the interrogation techniques employed can truly be classified as torture. I do know that, for the sake of Obama's moral preening, he has done true damage to our intelligence capabilities in the future.
Now, field officers are more careful. They want guidance from headquarters. They need legal advice. I'm told that in the case of an al-Qaeda suspect seized in Iraq several weeks ago, the CIA didn't even try to interrogate him. The agency handed him over to the U.S. military.
Agency officials also worry about the effect on foreign intelligence services that share secrets with the United States in a process politely known as "liaison." A former official who remains in close touch with key Arab allies such as Egypt and Jordan warns: "There is a growing concern that the risk is too high to do the things with America they've done in the past."
If Obama means what he says about protecting the CIA workforce and its operational edge, he must give up the idea that he can please everyone on this issue. He should recommend limits on any congressional inquiry and resist demands for a special prosecutor. Instead, he should push the White House's preferred alternative -- a commission that can review secret evidence behind closed doors, then report to the nation.
America will be better off, in the long run, for Obama's decision to expose the past practice of torture and ban its future use. But meanwhile, the country is fighting a war, and it needs to take care that the sunlight of exposure doesn't blind its shadow warriors.