Thursday, April 23, 2009

Obama: Releasing Memos & Degrading Our National Security

Obama's decision to release the legal memos on interrogation techniques prepared by OLC lawyers during the Bush Administration was a wrong-headed move meant by Obama to, one, show his moral superiority to the world, and two, to satisfy his radical base who have been clamoring for years to prosecute Bush and his administration, ostensibly for war crimes, etc. It comes at a cost of the severely degrading of our national security and, with Obama's decision to allow persecution of the OLC lawyers, has opened a Pandora's Box that could well tear this nation apart.

On Thursday last, ostensibly in response to a lawsuit filed by one of the most destructive forces in American society, the ACLU, President Obama ordered the Justice Dept. to withdraw its state-secrets objections to the release of four memos from the Bush years. These memos were drafted by the Office of Legal Counsel in response to queries from the CIA as to whether certain interrogation techniques were lawful under U.S. law and our treaty obligations.

To be clear, the government was under no true compulsion to release these memos. The State Secrets defense would have worked in this case, even if the lower Court had ruled otherwise. Such a ruling never would have survived appeal, one, because the material's release would work harm to our national security and, two, because procedurally, the appropriate members of Congress had been briefed and given their approval to the program. Obama's claim that the lawsuit justified release of the memos was an utter canard. Further, Obama ordered the release of these memos over the strong objection of five current and former intelligence chiefs.

So why do it?

Clearly, Obama was trying to establish his moral superiority with the chattering classes throughout the world. He is and was explicit about that. The NYT reported that Obama "condemned what he called a “dark and painful chapter in our history” and said that the interrogation techniques would never be used again." There has been other similar moral preening since. The NYT Times also reported:

. . . Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, cautioned that the memos were written at a time when C.I.A. officers were frantically working to prevent a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” said Mr. Blair in a written statement. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.”

Apparently, the respect afforded Obama by Le Monde journalists takes precendce in his mind over American national security and the safety of its citizens. That is a luxury, if not a fantasy, that Obama can revel in simply because we have been successful in interdicting terrorist attacks since 9-11.

I think it reasonable to speculate that Obama also took this move - releasing the memos but saying initially that no one would be prosecuted over them, either at CIA or OLC - as a bone to quiet his radical base. He grossly miscalculated. It only increased their lust for blood, but more on that later.

All of this raises a series of issues. Specifically, this will do untold harm to our nation's security by degrading the effectiveness of intelligence efforts and creating an incredibly risk averse legal class. I am speaking here of the kind of legal class in that gave us the Jamie Goerlick's infamous Chinese Wall. Further, and amazingly, it presumes that we are now safe from terrorist attack. Three, it was and is a very selective release of information. Four, it ignores the role of Congress in this process. And lastly, it has truly opened a Pandora's Box, given Obama's threat to cross the Rubicon and pursue prosecution of the OLC lawyers. That is the criminalization of political differences - something unknown in this country.

As to the effect this release of memos has had on the CIA, there was this from left wing commentator David Ignatius:

At the Central Intelligence Agency, it's known as "slow rolling." That's what agency officers sometimes do on politically sensitive assignments. They go through the motions; they pass cables back and forth; they take other jobs out of the danger zone; they cover their backsides.

Sad to say, it's slow roll time at Langley after the release of interrogation memos that, in the words of one veteran officer, "hit the agency like a car bomb in the driveway." President Obama promised CIA officers that they won't be prosecuted for carrying out lawful orders, but the people on the firing line don't believe him. They think the memos have opened a new season of investigation and retribution.

The lesson for younger officers is obvious: Keep your head down. Duck the assignments that carry political risk. Stay away from a counterterrorism program that has become a career hazard. . . .

Read the entire article. But Ignatius speaks only of the non-legal members of the CIA. What of the lawyers who have to decide whether something proposed by the CIA is legal and give guidance to the agency. Any lawyer who would willingly even render an opinion in such an instance now would be the penultimate fool. Make no mistake, the witch hunt just unleashed by Obama will turn our intelligence agencies and their legal advisors into the most risk averse organization on this planet. Our ability to gather intelligence from here forward is now seriously compromised. No need to take my word for that, you can take the former CIA Director's, Gen. Hayden. Further, we are likely to see legal advice of the kind provided by Jamie Goerlick that, in an effort to cover her legal ass, was a direct cause of the intelligence failures of 9-11.

A second issue raised is what this means for the terrorism threat. The irony of the remarks by the Obama Administration upon release of the memos and their implication is plumbed by Bill Kristol in an excellent essay at the Weekly Standard:

So: We were once in danger. Now we live in "a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009." Now, in April 2009, Obama's Director of National Intelligence seems to be saying, we're safe.

Good news, if true. And it would be an amazing tribute to the preceding administration's efforts in the war on terror--efforts that Democrats have been saying for years were making us less safe. Apparently, the old policies worked. The threat from al Qaeda has gone. We now have the luxury of "reflection," as President Obama put it in his statement, the luxury of debating and deploring what we did back in the bad old days when there was a war on. After all, "we have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history."

Leave aside how dark and painful the chapter really was. The question is, Is it over? Is the chapter in which we had to focus on preventing further attacks really through? Isn't there still a war against the jihadists on?

Of course Blair and other senior Obama officials have elsewhere suggested that the terror threat remains real, and even urgent. Why else the maintenance of the Bush era surveillance program? Why else the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, and to deploy more Predator strikes into Pakistan?

But can we then afford Obama's "dark and painful chapter" attitude, exemplified by his forgoing certain interrogation techniques in the present and future, and his exposing and deploring what was done in the past? Can we afford an intelligence director who tries to excuse his boss by telling us we are now safe?

Read the entire article. Those questions posed by Mr. Kristol are very pertinent indeed.

As we now know, this release of information by Obama - with some very pertinent redactions - was very selective indeed. While he released information on the interrogation tactics and decried them as of little value, he withheld information on the intelligence garnered as a result of those interrogation techniques. Other information released in the past week has been subject to similar careful editing, though the Obama administration has claimed inadvertence. Stephen Hayes, also writing at the Weekly Standard, takes note and sees therein the deliberate politicizing of intelligence:

I suppose, that a series of fortunate coincidences has resulted in the public disclosure of only that information that will be politically helpful to the Obama administration. It is also possible that Dick Cheney has taken up synchronized swimming in his retirement.

Read the entire article.

In order to evaluate the enhanced interrogation program in the public square, it is of obvious importance that we know 1) what, if any ill effects those subject to these techniques suffered, 2) the value of information gleaned from use of these techniques, and 3) whether the information could have been extracted without use of the techniques. As to bullet one, none of the people on whom these techniques were used have complained of any lasting effect of which I am aware. As to bullets two and three, by just about every account I have read, from George Tenet to Michal Hayden and even to the current intelligence chief - an avowed opponent of the program - the information gleaned from use of these techniques saved countless innocent American lives by allowing the breakup of plans to attack in Los Angles and New York. The New York Times today claims that its impossible to say whether the information saved lives. I seriously doubt that, but will await release of unredacted documents and further information before making a final decision.

Yet another issue, in light of Obama's green lighting of prosecution of the OLC attorneys for rendering legal opinions in this matter, is the role of Congress. Representative Peter Hoeksta notes in the WSJ today that members of both parties were repeatedly briefed on the enhanced interrogation tactics employed on three select detainees and that nary an eye - including Nancy Pelosi's eye - was batted. As Rep. Hoekstra notes, regarding calls for an investigation, it must assess Congressional approval of the program, it must include a full review of the information gleaned as a result of the program, and lastly:

An honest and thorough review of the enhanced interrogation program must also assess the likely damage done to U.S. national security by Mr. Obama's decision to release the memos over the objections of Mr. Panetta and four of his predecessors. Such a review should assess what this decision communicated to our enemies, and also whether it will discourage intelligence professionals from offering their frank opinions in sensitive counterterrorist cases for fear that they will be prosecuted by a future administration.

Perhaps we need an investigation not of the enhanced interrogation program, but of what the Obama administration may be doing to endanger the security our nation has enjoyed because of interrogations and other antiterrorism measures implemented since Sept. 12, 2001.

Somehow I doubt the far left now holding the reins of power in Washington will be amenable to any of those areas of inquiry. Read Rep. Hoeksta's entire article.

Lastly, when Obama announced his decision to release these memos, he likewise indicated that he did not intend for anyone to be prosecuted for them. As Hot Air notes, like virtually all Obama pronouncements of principle, this one came with an expiration date. By Monday, no doubt in response to vociferous urging from his radical far left base, Obama announced open season for prosecution of the lawyers who drafted the legal memos approving of the enhanced interrogation techniques.

I blogged on my analysis of the legal memos here. I read them in full and with an open mind. I know more than a little about the law. My conclusion regarding the OLC memos was that they present colorable legal arguments that the enhanced interrogation techniques fell short of the legal definition of "torture." I also concluded that there were some weaknesses in the analysis such that reasonable people could disagree. That said, as of yet, I have heard not a single principled argument in disagreement. I emphasize that because quite literally everyone I have seen and heard on the topic has cited no opposing precedent to support their conclusory assertions and labels that the interrogation techniques were unlawful torture. At any rate, what Obama, Soros and the far left want to do now is, as they indicated prior to the election, criminalize their disagreement. I could imagine no greater threat to the fabric of our nation. Even the attempt to do this is going to set off a maelstrom the likes of which we have never seen in this country since, well, 1861 I would have to say.

It does not end there. As I see it, if Obama and his far left base succeed in successfully prosecuting the attorneys over this, then President Obama will have abandoned his most sacred duty - to support and defend the Constitution. That is the day the far left crosses the Rubicon and we cease to be a free nation. The day any one of the OLC attorneys are marched into prison because of a political disagreement can and should be the day a true civil war - one that involves violence - starts in this country. Trust me when I say that up until three days ago, never did I think it the remotest possibility that those words would ever pass my lips.


Paul_In_Houston said...

Further, Obama ordered the release of the memos over the strong objection of five current and former intelligence chiefs.I understand that one of those was Leon Panetta, Obama's own appointee.


obakasan said...

Maybe the Republicans, once they're back in power, can follow Obama's precedent and prosecute him (and whoever advised him) for harming national security and putting American lives at risk.

Dinah Lord said...

I find it interesting that Obama's decision to release the memos and subsequent opening of the door for legal prosecution of Bush administration officials has completely taken the spotlight off his proposed plan to nationalize the banks.