Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) challenges both his colleagues on Capitol Hill and the Barack Obama administration to honest debate on the interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah in today’s Wall Street Journal. Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, accuses Obama of dishonesty by selectively releasing memos from the program — and he accuses Congress of cowardice by not admitting their own role in sanctioning the interrogations. He wants names and dates made public in this debate, a prospect that will likely chill enthusiasm on the Hill:
Unfortunately, on April 21, Mr. Obama backtracked and opened the door to possible prosecution of Justice Department attorneys who provided legal advice with respect to the enhanced interrogations program. The president also signaled that he may support some kind of independent inquiry into the program. It seems that he has capitulated to left-wing groups and some in Congress who are demanding show trials over this program.
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.
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.
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.
We have known for years that Congressional leadership had at least seen some footage from waterboarding, and had unanimously approved it, with one exception after the interrogations had already ceased. Hoekstra has identified himself as one of those attendees, and Jane Harman would have been another; Nancy Pelosi has been confirmed as another as well. If more names in Congress get released, especially among those today demanding prosecution, get identified with specific dates and the procedures discussed, and their commentary during the briefings, shouldn’t they also get prosecuted for “war crimes”? After all, as Hoekstra says, they approved the effort.
Releasing the OLC memos only provided part of the picture — the part Obama wanted to use for political purposes. For some reason, Politico reports, he thought that would be the end of it — and got caught unaware when it created an explosion of recrimination:
President Barack Obama’s attempt to project legal and moral clarity on coercive CIA interrogation methods has instead done the opposite — creating confusion and political vulnerability over an issue that has inflamed both the left and right.
In the most recent instance, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair acknowledged in a memo to the intelligence community that Bush-era interrogation practices yielded had “high-value information,” then omitted that admission from a public version of his assessment.
That leaves a top Obama administration official appearing to validate claims by former Vice President Dick Cheney that waterboarding and other techniques the White House regards as torture were effective in preventing terrorist attacks. And the press release created the impression the administration was trying to suppress this conclusion.
The president, who has said he wants to focus on the future rather than litigate the past, also opened himself to distraction and attack by retracting the earlier assurance by top officials that they had no plans to prosecute lawyers for former President George W. Bush who approved the “enhanced interrogation” program.
A Democratic strategist close to the White House said: “The president looked resolute, and like he had threaded the needle perfectly on the substance: The heat from the right was preposterous, and the heat from the left was manageable. But now they look like the scarecrow, pointing in both directions. They got the policy right, but they look confused and beaten down by critics.”
When he released the memos, Obama apparently didn’t anticipate that calling the OLC complicit in a war crime would generate two reactions. The first would criticize Obama for failing to prosecute people who he thinks committed crimes, and the second would get angry over Obama only telling part of the story. Before the release, he only had a small group of people criticizing him for putting the issue in the past, and now he has everyone angry over his dishonest approach to the issue.
Obama can’t stick with the position that the most culpable people in the interrogation were the lawyers who responded to a request for clarification on the law. They neither ordered, approved, or conducted the interrogations. Legal culpability is the weakest for them if any crime was committed, and it’s frankly cowardice to only attack the OLC. If crimes were committed, then members of Congress, the White House, CIA leadership and the interrogators are the ones who have to answer for them, and we can only know that when all of the data is revealed. If Obama’s not willing to do that, then he never should have opened that can of worms in the first place.