After the Obama administration released the OLC memos on enhanced interrogation techniques, our British allies must have figured that the US would not object to publicizing the techniques used on Binyam Mohamed, now in the UK after being released from Guantanamo Bay. Barack Obama clarified his position on exposing intel techniques in a letter to the Brits that more or less told them to do what he says, and not what he does. Eli Lake reports that Obama threatened to cut off cooperation between American and British intelligence if a British court publishes a seven-paragraph memorandum outlining Mohamed’s treatment:
“If it is determined that [her majesty’s government] is unable to protect information we provide to it, even if that inability is caused by your judicial system, we will necessarily have to review with the greatest care the sensitivity of information we can provide in the future.”
The letter stands in contrast to President Obama’s decision last month to release four memos from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel providing fresh detail on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program.
But, the U.S. letter points out: “Neither in [those four] memoranda, nor in any statements of the administration accompanying their release, was reference made to the identity of any foreign government that might have assisted the United States.
“Given the declassification of the highly sensitive information contained in the memoranda, the fact that the president refrained from providing any information about foreign governments is indicative that the United States continues to preserve the secrecy of such information as critical to our national security.”
At issue is whether the British courts will disclose a seven-paragraph summary of the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, a former detainee who was released from Guantanamo Bay prison in February.
This issue arose when Mohamed first arrived in Britain. The US warned that any release of information about Mohamed’s treatment would create severe stress on the relationship between the two intelligence agencies, but the Brits thought that was more or less an artifact of the Bush administration. They took the reasonable conclusion that the release of the OLC memos detailing the interrogation techniques used made the memorandum a moot point. The Brits got a rude awakening, emphasis on the rude.
What does this tell us? If they thought the OLC memo release mooted the gag rule, then Mohamed didn’t get any other extraordinary treatment than what was outlined in the OLC memos. However, the Obama administration clearly disagrees, which calls into question why they themselves released the OLC memos. After all, if this argument in the administration’s letter is true —
“Public disclosure of this information, reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the United Kingdom’s national security. Specifically, disclosure of this information may result in a constriction of the U.S.-U.K. relationship, as well as U.K. relationships with other countries.”
— couldn’t the same be said about the release of the OLC memos? Didn’t they damage national security by exposing not just what the US did in interrogations, but at least implicitly exposing that our closest partners knew about it? The subtext of this entire exchange is that the Brits had access to our interrogation techniques all along and didn’t object. That may not have been explicitly stated in the OLC memos, but the memorandum at question here didn’t arrive in 2009, and the administration’s letter strongly implies that the Brits knew all along how we interrogated Mohamed.
Suddenly, the Obama administration has gotten shy about publicity. Why? I suspect that they’re worried about backlash from the CIA, which leaked the briefing memos showing Nancy Pelosi knew about waterboarding in 2002. The White House seriously damaged their relationship with Langley in releasing those memos and talking publicly about prosecutions, and they’re trying to find ways to put the genie back in the bottle. The publication of that memo will make that more difficult and give prosecution advocates more material to make their case.
In other words, Obama’s political play in releasing the OLC memos continues to backfire on him. Amateur hour continues in the West Wing.
Update: Had the wrong link initially; fixed it.
Update II: Brian Faughnan finds that the Left suddenly hates leaks from the CIA. What. A. Shock.