This interview with Debra Burlingame, the co-founder of Keep America Safe and the sister of the plot whose plane was crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, is one of the more bracing moments of the week:
On a human level, this is a shocking reminder of just how emotionally disconnected and downright rude President Obama can be. Rather than simply saying, “I understand your concern about prosecuting CIA agents and I will do what’s best for the country” (or whatever), Obama brusquely says he’s not going to comment and turns his back on her. I can’t imagine for a moment that George W. Bush, Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan would have acted with such dismissiveness. Obama’s thin skin is one of his worst qualities.
Moreover, Burlingame is, of course, correct. In the Wall Street Journal today, former attorney general Michael Mukasey writes:
Consider how the intelligence that led to bin Laden came to hand. It began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information — including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden. That regimen of harsh interrogation was used on KSM after another detainee, Abu Zubaydeh, was subjected to the same techniques. When he broke, he said that he and other members of al-Qaeda were obligated to resist only until they could no longer do so, at which point it became permissible for them to yield. “Do this for all the brothers,” he advised his interrogators. . . .
The harsh techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA. Of the thousands of unlawful combatants captured by the U.S., fewer than 100 were detained and questioned in the CIA program. Of those, fewer than one-third were subjected to any of these techniques. . . .
President Obama ran for election on the promise to do away with these techniques even before he became aware, if he ever did, of what they were. Days after taking office, he directed that the CIA interrogation program be done away with entirely and that interrogation be limited to the techniques set forth in the Army Field Manual, a document designed for use by even the least experienced troops. It’s available on the Internet and used by terrorists as a training manual for resisting interrogation.
In addition to eliminating the very techniques that allowed us to track down and kill bin Laden, Obama has permitted the Justice Department to reopen investigation of previously cleared CIA operatives. Muskaey explains: “ I say ‘reopening’ advisedly because those investigations had all been formally closed by the end of 2007, with detailed memoranda prepared by career Justice Department prosecutors explaining why no charges were warranted. Attorney General Eric Holder conceded that he had ordered the investigations reopened in September 2009 without reading those memoranda. The investigations have now dragged on for years with prosecutors chasing allegations down rabbit holes, with the CIA along with the rest of the intelligence community left demoralized.”
This is scandalous. And on this point I disagree with Burlingame: there is absolutely nothing to prevent Obama from directing Holder to cease his inquisition. The inquest never should have begun. Closing it down is a matter of national security (we cannot impede and intimidate our intelligence agencies). Obama is responsible for his own Justice Department and is irresponsible, not to mention grossly ungrateful, in allowing the prosecution to continue.
One suggestion: Current CIA Director Leon Panetta and Gen. David Petraeus will be facing Senate confirmation hearings on their new appointments. Both should be asked their opinion about the CIA inquests. Should they fail to offer an opinion or defend the ongoing prosecutions, the Senate would be fully justified in holding up their confirmations.
And Obama owes Burlingame an apology.