Friday, December 7, 2007

The Sound, The Fury, And The Waterboarding

Someone tell me with a straight face that there isn’t coordination between the CIA and/or Democratic staffers and the New York Times to once again make public confidential information in an effort to one, embarrass the government, and two, forward the Democratic legislative agenda by any means available.

Let's set the stage for what happened today. The Congress is about to debate on legislation that would make illegal in all cases "enhanced" interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. I am glad to see this legislation. It is a question that should be debated and decided by our elected leadership in Congress. I hope the debate is quite robust. Do we choose moral perfection or practical necessity. How do we, as a nation, define the word and outer boundary of "torture" in all circumstances. Going to sleep at night with a clean conscious is important. So is waking up alive in the morning. Assuming George Tenet was accurate, use of waterboarding on two radical Islamists is what, in fact, has kept more than a few Americans still waking up in the morning. And the Islamists so treated suffered no damage or long term ill effects from their treatment - something that normally defines techniques considered "torture." So do we legislate this technique out of our repertoire in all future cases?

Very loyal Americans of all political persuasions can discuss this in the cold light of reason and come to different conclusions. John McCain and Teddy Kennedy both come out on the side of holding waterboarding to be torture and, by definition, outlawed under our Geneva Convention treaty obligations. Others would define waterboarding, which causes little more than momentary, overwhelming panic, not to be torture within the black letter definition of the term. So this is a very valid question with very real national security ramifications. Its not some ethical problem posed in a classroom. The lives of real people are in the balance. This matter should be debated dispassionately and all ramifications carefully considered.

But that is not what is happening. Instead what we have is an attempt by the left to cloud this very important question with emotion and seemingly bad facts wholly ancillary to the question that our government will be asked to debate. The lead article spread across our morning papers results from the NYT decision to publish that the CIA destroyed in 2005 two videos of enhanced interrogations. The CIA claims that appropriate members of Congress were briefed at the time. That is disputed by some in Congress. Proof one way or the other will likely come out of Congressional records over the next few days. There is also a question of whether these tapes should have been provided to the 9-11 Commission. That will also become clear in the next few days and, if they were held without authorization, than heads should roll. Yet another question is asked whether the tapes should have been produced to the defense in the Moussaoui case. That will also become clear in the next few days, though initial indications are that the prisoners interrogated on the tapes were not prisoners on whom Moussaoui's lawyers requested production.

All of this is meaningful, and achieving clarity on the above questions are important, but it is not meaningful in the context in which it is being manipulated by the NYT. The NYT's purpose for running the story is already accomplished - to cloud the debate over this piece of Democratic legislation.

This is the story from the NYT:

The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about its secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.

The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terrorism suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques. . .

In a statement to employees on Thursday, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, said that the decision to destroy the tapes was made “within the C.I.A.” and that they were destroyed to protect the safety of undercover officers and because they no longer had intelligence value.

The destruction of the tapes raises questions about whether agency officials withheld information from Congress, the courts and the Sept. 11 commission about aspects of the program.

The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui or to the Sept. 11 commission, which was appointed by President Bush and Congress, and which had made formal requests to the C.I.A. for transcripts and other documentary evidence taken from interrogations of agency prisoners.

The disclosures about the tapes are likely to reignite the debate over laws that allow the C.I.A. to use interrogation practices more severe than those allowed to other agencies. A Congressional conference committee voted late Wednesday to outlaw those interrogation practices, but the measure has yet to pass the full House and Senate and is likely to face a veto from Mr. Bush.

The New York Times informed the intelligence agency on Wednesday evening that it was preparing to publish an article about the destruction of the tapes. In his statement to employees on Thursday, General Hayden said that the agency had acted “in line with the law” and that he was informing C.I.A. employees “because the press has learned” about the matter.

General Hayden’s statement said that the tapes posed a “serious security risk” and that if they had become public they would have exposed C.I.A. officials “and their families to retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.”

. . . General Hayden has said publicly that information obtained through the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program has been the best source of intelligence for operations against Al Qaeda. In a speech last year, President Bush said that information from Mr. Zubaydah had helped lead to the capture in 2003 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. . . .

Read the NYT article here. And here is the WaPo article on the tapes. If the Republicans have a single bit of backbone, they will demand an investigation into how this information, which had to be classified, came to be leaked to the NYT. This constant stream of classified leaks has got to end.

As to whether to use waterboarding as a legitimate, closely regulated technique of interrogation, let the debate begin. As to the NYT, let their stock value ebb evermore.

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