I strongly suspect Senate Democrats did not anticipate the events that played out after the release of their much-criticized report on CIA interrogation tactics. Sure, the gory details dominated headlines and delighted the antiwar left, but then conservatives and some Democrats — and most telling, current and former CIA officials — struck back.
We have seen a parade of former CIA directors, deputy directors and even former senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) blast release of the report and the shoddy attempt to pronounce upon the agency without interviewing those who knew the most. That story — condemn first and don’t ask questions because you might get an answer you don’t like — has resonated. All of this has cast the Democratic Party once again as the party that’s weak on (and unserious about) defense.
Even worse, the president won’t say (!) whether he agrees with his own handpicked CIA director, John Brennan, that the information gained through enhanced interrogation techniques was useful, and he won’t criticize or endorse the Senate Democrats. Now, there’s a resounding vote of no support for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
The White House spokesman has turned himself in knots as to whether the findings are correct; they, of course, conflict with a prior inspector general report.
And to top it off, Brennan went to the press to hold forth on the report. He offered an entirely reasonable conclusion: “Detainees who were subjected to EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] at some point during their confinement subsequently provided information that our experts found to be useful and valuable. The cause and effect relationship between the use of those EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainees is unknown and unknowable.” Indeed, one cannot tell whether eventually we would have obtained the information about Osama bin Laden and additional terrorist plots without the information. What we do know is that we got actionable information that was used to foil deadly attacks.
That strikes at the heart of Feinstein’s hatchet job. Brennan turned the knife a little more: “For someone to say that there was no intelligence of value, of use that came from those detainees…I think that lacks any foundation at all.” Take that, senator.
Moreover, Brennan pointedly refused to call the techniques “torture,” and unlike the president and Senate Democrats, sympathetically put the CIA’s use of these methods in the context of 9/11. He said, “There were no easy answers, and whatever your views are on [enhanced interrogation techniques], our nation and in particular this agency did a lot of things right during this difficult time to keep this country strong and secure.” He recounted the horror of those days and reminded the media that we looked to the CIA for answers.
He and his boss are not in sync, although Brennan’s views sound rather close to those of some in the George W. Bush administration. How can the president keep a CIA director so out of kilter with his own views, and how does Brennan continue to work for a president that let his agency get trashed? Well, that is what makes politicians different from average folks: They generally don’t let intellectual integrity get in the way.
At any rate, the controversy is generally on the Democratic side as the White House, Senate Democrats and others fight among themselves. And Hillary Clinton? She’s hiding right now. Why would she want to weigh in on this mess?