[Marxism] Obama Avoids Taking Sides on Effectiveness of C.I.A. Techniques
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 10 06:53:30 MST 2014
NY Times, Dec. 10 2014
Obama Avoids Taking Sides on Effectiveness of C.I.A. Techniques
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — The C.I.A. maintains that the brutal interrogation
techniques it used on terrorism suspects a decade ago worked. The Senate
Intelligence Committee concluded that they did not. And on that, at
least, President Obama is not taking sides.
Even as Mr. Obama repeated his belief that the techniques constituted
torture and betrayed American values, he declined to address the
fundamental question raised by the report, which the committee released
on Tuesday: Did they produce meaningful intelligence to stop terrorist
attacks, or did the C.I.A. mislead the White House and the public about
That debate, after all, has left Mr. Obama facing an uncomfortable
choice between two allies: the close adviser and former aide he
installed as director of the C.I.A. versus his fellow Democrats who
control the Senate committee and the liberal base that backs their findings.
“We are not going to engage in this debate,” said a senior
administration official close to Mr. Obama who briefed reporters under
ground rules that did not allow him to be identified.
The written statement Mr. Obama released in response to the report tried
to straddle that divide. He opened by expressing appreciation to C.I.A.
employees as “patriots” to whom “we owe a debt of gratitude” for trying
to protect the country after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Then he
judged that the methods they used in doing so “did significant damage to
America’s standing in the world.”
And finally, Mr. Obama asked the nation to stop fighting about what
happened so many years ago before he took office. “Rather than another
reason to refight old arguments,” he said, “I hope that today’s report
can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past.”
Mr. Obama has struggled to find balance on this issue since taking
office nearly six years ago. He made one of his first acts as president
signing an order that banned the use of torture by the C.I.A. But he
resisted pressure from activists to hold anyone accountable for the
waterboarding of suspects.
The Justice Department under Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
re-examined cases of prisoner abuse that were previously closed under
President George W. Bush, but it did not prosecute anyone. Mr. Obama
rejected the creation of a “truth commission” proposed by Democrats like
Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. To this day, he has resisted
releasing photographs of harsh treatment of detainees in Iraq and
Afghanistan and his White House backed up the C.I.A. in seeking
redactions of the Senate report.
Now as president receiving regular briefings on terrorist threats and
responsible for stopping them, he sees the situation differently than he
did as a candidate denouncing the incumbent of the other party. In his
statement on Tuesday, Mr. Obama not only did not condemn Mr. Bush for
authorizing the techniques, he sounded a note of empathy.
“In the years after 9/11, with legitimate fears of further attacks and
with the responsibility to prevent more catastrophic loss of life, the
previous administration faced agonizing choices about how to pursue al
Qaeda and prevent additional terrorist attacks against our country,” he
A major influence has been John O. Brennan, a career C.I.A. officer who
has been at his side since the start of his presidency, first as his
White House counterterrorism adviser and now as his C.I.A. director.
Both Mr. Brennan and the president’s first C.I.A. director, Leon E.
Panetta, have taken the position, contrary to critics, that the
interrogations did yield useful intelligence at points but were
nonetheless wrong and that Mr. Obama was right to ban them.
“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom E.I.T.s
were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans,
capture terrorists and save lives,” he said in a statement on Tuesday,
referring to enhanced interrogation techniques. “The intelligence gained
from the program was critical to our understanding of Al Qaeda and
continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day.”
Mr. Brennan acknowledged that the program “had shortcomings and that the
agency made mistakes,” especially because the C.I.A. was unprepared for
its new post-Sept. 11 role. But he rejected the assertion that the
agency deliberately deceived the public about the efficacy of the
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the Democratic chairwoman of the
intelligence committee, said the program was not just morally wrong but
ineffective. The committee’s report argues that information gleaned from
the interrogations was often false, duplicative or could have been
obtained in other ways.
In walking the line between those two poles, Mr. Obama has carefully
measured his language and tone. Even though he denounced torture
generally during his 2008 campaign, many involved in the issue were
struck this summer when he directly stated that the United States had in
fact tortured prisoners, interpreting that as a more forthright
statement than he had made before.
“We did a whole lot of things that were right,” Mr. Obama said about the
post-Sept. 11 fight with terrorists, “but we tortured some folks.”
On Tuesday, he seemed at first to avoid such a straightforward assertion
again. His written statement noted he had “unequivocally banned torture”
but did not say the United States had actually committed torture. In
discussing what had happened under his predecessor, Mr. Obama used
phrases like “harsh methods” and even “enhanced interrogation
techniques,” the phrase preferred by Mr. Bush and the C.I.A.
Aides quickly said that Mr. Obama was not trying to hedge and that when
the president sat down with José Díaz-Balart from Telemundo for an
interview several hours later, he used a more direct formulation.
“Some of the tactics written about in the Senate intelligence report
were brutal, and as I’ve said before, constituted torture in my mind,”
Mr. Obama said.
Yet as human rights and civil liberties groups called for prosecution of
those responsible, the White House evinced no interest and aides made
clear Mr. Obama had “complete confidence” in Mr. Brennan, as one put it.
Asked about the Senate committee’s judgment that the C.I.A. deceived the
public, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said, “That’s
something that we’re not passing judgment on.”
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