I’m surprised Haspel didn’t have a better canned answer ready for this question, knowing that Harris was destined to use her turn this morning to cut a 2020 primary ad. E.g., “After 9/11, still not sure of the scope of the threat we were facing, our primary moral duty was to protect the American people from new atrocities. The president authorized us to act and Congress declined to substitute its own moral judgment of our practices until years later. If we hadn’t used enhanced interrogation and another 3,000 Americans were murdered, we’d have been pilloried for not doing everything possible to extract information from terrorists in our custody. I didn’t like the techniques we were using but I didn’t like watching office workers swan-diving off of the 110th floor more.”
Which is to say, Haspel could have turned this question right around. Did Congress believe enhanced interrogation was moral or immoral in late 2001? Did Democrats? If it was immoral, why didn’t they do everything in their power, up to and including shutting down the government, to stop it? You know why. Sitting back and doing nothing while George Bush and Haspel wrestled with how to handle the aftermath of 9/11, then lambasting Haspel years later for supposedly having done the wrong thing, is a supreme example of Congress’s essential cowardice and abdication of duty. It’s the interrogation equivalent of them declining to insist on an AUMF whenever the president wants to bomb someone, then complaining afterwards if something goes wrong in the aftermath of the strike. Same logic in both cases: These people don’t want to be on the wrong side of the White House doing something ostensibly important in service to national security.
As late as 2006, no less a figure than Bill Clinton was saying stuff like this to NPR:
“Look, if the president needed an option, there’s all sorts of things they can do.Let’s take the best case, OK.You picked up someone you know is the No. 2 aide to Osama bin Laden. And you know they have an operation planned for the United States or some European capital in the next three days. And you know this guy knows it. Right, that’s the clearest example. And you think you can only get it out of this guy by shooting him full of some drugs or water-boarding him or otherwise working him over. If they really believed that that scenario is likely to occur, let them come forward with an alternate proposal.
“We have a system of laws here where nobody should be above the law, and you don’t need blanket advance approval for blanket torture.They can draw a statute much more narrowly, which would permit the president to make a finding in a case like I just outlined, and then that finding could be submitted even if after the fact to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”
Five years after 9/11, the last Democrat to occupy the White House up to that point was still gaming out theoretical ways to let the CIA get rough with a jihadi in limited circumstances. The cynical view of that is that Clinton understood like few others the electoral pressures on a president: If you’re seen as unwilling to do everything necessary in an emergency to protect the country, the country will hire someone who isn’t. The more charitable view, though, is that Clinton was making a moral judgment himself about his own presidential duties, the electoral consequences be damned. If Al Qaeda’s just blown up the World Trade Center and you don’t know what else might be coming, up to and including nuclear or biological terrorism, is your higher moral duty not to mistreat prisoners or to do whatever you deem necessary to prevent coming attacks? Clinton’s answer, essentially, was that it depends on how dire the threat is, which is essentially true. Sixteen and a half years removed from a mega-attack in New York, the circumstances don’t feel dire. Mistreatment of prisoners would feel not just cruel but gratuitous. Sixteen and a half years ago, though? You tell me.
Speaking of which, this story from yesterday made me laugh:
President Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the C.I.A. has revived debate over the agency’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation program and still-murky questions about her involvement. Now, on the eve of her Senate confirmation hearing, a striking voice is trying to join that fray: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
Mr. Mohammed, the principal architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was captured in March 2003 and tortured by the C.I.A. This week, he asked a military judge at Guantánamo Bay for permission to share six paragraphs of information about Ms. Haspel with the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Are Democrats going to fight for this degenerate’s right to deliver a candygram about Gina Haspel to the Senate Intel Committee? Why, no. Because, you see, his entry into this spectacle would reorient the public and lead them to remember how they felt about enhanced interrogation circa 2002, when people in New York City were coming down with anthrax and papers were running analyses of how AQ might conceivably smuggle a nuclear weapon into Washington. For all of Harris’s sanctimony here, I’m gonna guess she and her colleagues will *not* call the guy who planned 9/11 as a character witness about Gina Haspel. Although, really, that’s the logical endpoint of this form of grandstanding.
I sure hope President Harris never has to grapple seriously with this problem.
Sen. Kamala Harris grills Gina Haspel over whether previous CIA techniques were immoral, demanding a yes or no answer pic.twitter.com/cOjeAXsxyy
— Axios (@axios) May 9, 2018