WaPo: Release of torture memos political

Buried deep within the Washington Post’s front-page story on the decision to release the OLC memos, Barack Obama’s motivation gets revealed.  Former VP Dick Cheney’s criticism that Obama’s policies had made America less safe apparently stung more than the White House admitted.  Unfortunately, Obama may have gone a long way towards proving Cheney’s point in allowing himself to get baited (via Michael Goldfarb):

Several Obama aides said the president’s decision was in line with his frequent criticism during the campaign of President George W. Bush’s policies on interrogations at secret prisons. On his second day in office, Obama banned the prisons and the tactics in an executive order.

The aides also said they hope the memos’ release will focus public attention on the coldness and sterility of the legal justifications for abusive techniques, with Obama telling reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday that the documents demonstrate that the nation lost its “moral bearings” in the Bush years.

A source familiar with White House views said Obama’s advisers are further convinced that letting the public know exactly what the past administration sanctioned will undermine what they see as former vice president Richard B. Cheney’s effort to “box Obama in” by claiming that the executive order heightened the risk of a terrorist attack.

Rather than doing that, though, it prompted members of his own administration to publicly corroborate Cheney.  The White House tried to suppress the key part of Dennis Blair’s memo that acknowledged the success of the interrogations in thwarting at least one major terrorist attack against the US, the “Second Wave” airliner attacks after 9/11 aimed at Los Angeles.  The CIA separately insisted that its actions protected America from attack.  Cheney himself went back on the attack, describing some of the memos that Obama didn’t declassify, and launched a high-profile campaign to get them released.

On Capitol Hill, Obama’s strategy also backfired.  Republicans balked at the limited disclosure.  Pete Hoekstra has demanded that the White House release the memos from Congressional briefings on the interrogations, which will show that Democratic leadership knew exactly what was happening and didn’t object at all to it.  Even one of Obama’s few allies in the GOP on this issue, John McCain, warned Obama that he was setting up a “witch hunt” that would turn America into a “banana republic”.

Instead of the headlines being about what the Bush administration sanctioned, they became about Nancy Pelosi’s denial and then non-denial of her knowledge on waterboarding interrogations, the success of the interrogations in preventing an attack, and Obama’s lack of testicular fortitude in sticking with his original position to let sleeping dogs lie.  Small wonder that he began backtracking in earnest yesterday when meeting with Congressional leaders.

Now we have confirmation that Obama planned this all along as a political attack against a man who hardly matters on the national political scene any longer —  or at least he didn’t until Obama decided to pick a fight with him.  Just as with his strange attack on Rush Limbaugh, all it did was elevate his opponent and diminish himself.