[Marxism] Obama Avoids Taking Sides on Effectiveness of C.I.A. Techniques

Louis Proyect 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

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 
their effectiveness?

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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