Barack Obama’s top man in the intelligence community sent the President a memo defending the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, which the White House edited before releasing to the press de-emphasizing that defense. Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, pointed out that most of what we know about al-Qaeda came from using those techniques on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, countering leaks last week from the Obama administration that claimed the methods produced no data:
President Obama’s national intelligence director told colleagues in a private memo last week that the harsh interrogation techniques banned by the White House did produce significant information that helped the nation in its struggle with terrorists.
“High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country,” Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the intelligence director, wrote in a memo to his staff last Thursday.
Admiral Blair sent his memo on the same day the administration publicly released secret Bush administration legal memos authorizing the use of interrogation methods that the Obama White House has deemed to be illegal torture. Among other things, the Bush administration memos revealed that two captured Qaeda operatives were subjected to a form of near-drowning known as waterboarding a total of 266 times.
The New York Times, which got a copy of the memo, also notices some odd redactions from the version released by the White House:
Admiral Blair’s assessment that the interrogation methods did produce important information was deleted from a condensed version of his memo released to the media last Thursday. Also deleted was a line in which he empathized with his predecessors who originally approved some of the harsh tactics after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past,” he wrote, “but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given.”
In other words, the Obama administration covered up the fact that even their own DNI acknowledges that the interrogations produced actionable and critical information. When Dick Cheney demanded the release of the rest of the memos relating that information, he wasn’t just going on a fishing expedition. Cheney filed a request to declassify those memos in March, and the CIA has yet to decide on his request, but we can no longer doubt that records exist showing the success of those interrogations.
Obama has occasionally suggested a truth-and-reconciliation approach to probing the use of torture by the Bush administration, but this establishes that Obama isn’t terribly interested in “truth”. Withholding the truth that waterboarding produced information that saved hundreds of American lives, perhaps thousands, shows that Obama values public relations more than he does the truth. He wants to argue that none of this was necessary to secure the nation against terrorist attacks. In order to make that argument, he redacted Blair’s memo, including his defense of his predecessors, whom Blair acknowledges had to face some tough decisions to uncover plots against America.
Maybe Obama could learn a lesson from Blair in that regard.
We need to have an honest debate on interrogation techniques and securing America against attack from radical, committed terrorists. Conservatives should stop pretending that waterboarding isn’t a form of torture that the US has opposed for decades when used abroad, especially against our own citizens. But everyone else should stop pretending that it doesn’t work, and that we would have been safer without its use. The real question — the one Obama wanted to avoid in his cover-up of Blair’s memo — is how many American lives is it worth to say we don’t waterboard? Ten? A hundred? Three thousand? Fifty thousand, the intended result of 9/11 and presumably the Second Wave waterboarding stopped?