The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Who leads, who follows, who ducks on the CIA report

President Obama excoriates his predecessor’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques but won’t “take sides” (in accordance with his role as a bystander in his own administration) as to whether they resulted in actionable intelligence and won’t say if in the same position he would have done differently. His own CIA director says lives were saved but the president leaves him, the agency and the country twisting in the wind. What a pathetic profile in non-leadership.

Since the Senate Democrats released their hatchet job on the CIA, Hillary Clinton has not weighed in, to no one’s surprise. She still hasn’t said whether she agrees with the president’s view on Iran sanctions. She is not one to cough up views on controversial issues.

Meanwhile, Sen.-elect Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told local reporters:

“It’s a one-sided partisan report that didn’t even interview the people involved, and that will cost American lives overseas now and in the future,” Cotton said. “It’s full of lies.” He said some techniques in the report are used to train service members and “if an American soldier volunteers to undergo it, it’s not torture,” he said. Cotton called the committee report irresponsible. “Other countries work in decades when it comes to trusting the United States, not in two-year election cycles or six-year senate terms, and we are going to find ourselves friendless in the world, in part because of this report, and with an intelligence service that doesn’t trust its elected leaders,” Cotton said.

Even before the release of the report, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) condemned its release in a written statement with Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), which in part reads:

The one-sided report that will be released by Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence cost U.S. tax-payers over $40 million dollars to produce, and its authors never interviewed a single CIA official.
It is unconscionable that the Committee and the White House would support releasing this report despite warnings from our allies, the U.S. State Department, and a new coordinated Intelligence Community document assessing the increased risk to the United States the release of this report poses. We are concerned that this release could endanger the lives of Americans overseas, jeopardize U.S. relations with foreign partners, potentially incite violence, create political problems for our allies, and be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies. Simply put, this release is reckless and irresponsible. We have written to the administration reminding them of these concerns.
Congress has a legitimate and necessary role to play in conducting serious and constructive oversight of our intelligence agencies and capabilities. This report does not qualify as either serious or constructive. This was a partisan effort that divided members of the committee, and the committee against the people of the CIA. We voted against this report because it is flawed, and voted against declassifying this report because we believed that its release could put American lives at risk, be used to contribute to propaganda against the United States by our enemies, and damage U.S. foreign policy and counterterrorism efforts.

Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Tex.) statement was a bit more generic, but nevertheless critical: “Every civilized nation agrees that torture is wrong. But today’s partisan report will endanger lives, drive away our allies – who have never been more needed than now – and undermine the ability of our intelligence officers and soldiers to protect our national security.”

By contrast, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had this reaction, according to Politico:

As he strolled to his Senate office, Paul declined to characterize the report as an attack on Bush like so many of his colleagues. Instead the Kentucky senator, who’s attempting to chart a less interventionist course for the GOP as he mulls a presidential run, expressed mixed feelings on the report’s release and what it says about the United States — a sharp break from his Kentucky colleague McConnell, who blasted Democrats’ work as “ideologically motivated.”
“It’s important that people take a stand and representatives take a stand on whether they believe torture should be allowed. I think we should not have torture,” Paul said. “Transparency is mostly good for government. The only thing I would question is whether or not the actual details, the gruesomeness of the details, will be beneficial or inflammatory.”

As bad as that was for Republicans looking for McConnell-Rubio-Cotton-Cruz pushback to the Senate Democrats and a robust defense of our intelligence community, Paul at least had something to say. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has previously refused to disclose what views, if any, he has on immigration reform, begged off, according to a New York Times reporter, who tweeted: “Gov. Christie says it’d be ‘irresponsible’ to comment on Senate CIA report of interrogation techniques before reading more, being briefed.” This does not sound like someone comfortable and prepared to talk spontaneously about critical national security events. Saying “I am not a candidate,” is no excuse; saying so makes him seem unready to become one.

Republicans may be comfortable with a faint echo of Obama, but I suspect they want to find out how exactly the person seeking support for the presidency looks at these issues. If the pols are not prepared or not bold enough to say, it bodes ill for their ability to come across as presidential.