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What Truly Shocks the Conscience


Yesterday’s release by the Justice Department was meant to bolster Eric Holder’s decision to name a special prosecutor, and to shock our consciences about how poorly we treated high-value detainees.

I think we should stop with the “high-value detainee” talk and call them “terrorists” from here on out, because I believe we’ve forgotten who these people are. They are not white-collar criminals, and they are not alleged homicide perpetrators. They are terrorists who killed hundreds and thousands of Americans and did their level best to kill more — to put an end to this country’s existence.

The media has led with the story of our interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and in an effort to shock our national conscience, the report says, among other things, that he was told that if there was another attack on American soil, the CIA would “kill your children.”

I’m sorry but I’m left cold by this. The man who masterminded the actual murder of 3,000 Americans and changed our country forever, wanting to do more, was told that his children would be threatened if another attack took place. Let’s recall what we’re actually doing right now: We use Predator drones to actually kill terrorists with missiles — and we actually kill their children, friends, and relatives at the same time.

We truly have forgotten 9/11.

Back in 2001, without naming names, there were serious, intellectual people in Washington who spoke among themselves of doing things far worse than this to prevent another attack. There were learned moralists and foreign-policy experts who privately discussed schemes like threatening to target Mecca if another attack took place. Of course that never became policy, and it wasn’t the administration, but that was the mindset of an awful lot of serious people.

Did we intern thousands of Arab citizens in this country, as FDR did with the Japanese? Did we execute saboteurs once we found them, as FDR authorized? Did we use weapons of mass destruction, as Harry Truman did? Did we suspend habeas corpus on U.S. citizens, as Abraham Lincoln did? No. We did not, and terrorists like KSM and Al-Nashiri, who has 17 dead U.S. sailors from the USS Cole on his hands, are given three squares a day, Korans, and prayer mats in our custody.

CIA director Leon Panetta wrote this to his charges at the CIA yesterday:

This much is clear: The CIA obtained intelligence from high-value detainees when inside information on al-Qa’ida was in short supply. Whether this was the only way to obtain that information will remain a legitimate area of dispute, with Americans holding a range of views on the methods used. The CIA requested and received legal guidance and referred allegations of abuse to the Department of Justice. President Obama has established new policies for interrogation.

We obtained intelligence when it was in short supply. We received legal guidance along the way.

But let’s also quote the New York Times this morning, shall we? “The report found that the interrogations obtained critical information to identify terrorists and stop potential plots and said some imprisoned terrorists provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment.”

Indeed, the report did just that. Page 17:

The Agency’s detention and interrogation of terrorists has provided intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists and warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world. The CTC Program has resulted in the issuance of thousands of individual intelligence reports and analytic products supporting the counterterrorism efforts of U.S. policymakers and military commanders.

I really feel no need to go further.

But the Obama administration did see the need to go further, and as has been said before, when you erect a gallows, make sure you know who you plan to hang. I believe the blowback against the administration — by career employees of our intelligence community and by the American people — will find this self-indictment either irrelevant or irresponsible.

Charles Krauthammer put it this way yesterday:

The administration is in a deep health care debate, a national debate, and every hour that passes, support for his plans are diminishing and his own popularity is tanking.

All of a sudden, this issue explodes on a Monday. Friday, the administration met at 5:00 after hours, releases a $2 trillion error in estimates of deficits, and on bright Monday, you get this re-litigation of the Bush administration all of a sudden exploding upon us.

Look, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’m not a child. It’s not a coincidence.

And secondly, you get the president pretending he is against all this and that it is Holder, the attorney general whose initiative all of this is about, as if Holder isn’t an employee and under the direction of the administration.

So, the president is the good cop who is magnanimous, who really wants to look ahead as the messianic visionary he is, and Holder is the bad guy.

Obama knows exactly what is happening and this serves his purposes wonderfully.

This is an extremely bad way to begin a presidency — worse than Clinton’s first-year rookie mistakes — and I believe these are the signs of an already-failed presidency.

And finally, as the administration blasts away at the CIA, somewhere at Langley, good men and women, watching their agency go through these political throes, are watching their president who started all this play golf and tennis today.

 — Seth Leibsohn is a fellow of the Claremont Institute.


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