Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Should We Have Saved LA?

We learned two things from the release of the legal memos supporting the EITs (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques):

1. We didn’t come even close to torturing anyone. The kid-glove treatment detailed in these memos is far surpassed by our own military training, especially in our special forces such as the Navy SEALs. Our special forces not only have to look at a bug – they have to eat it.

2. The EITs yielded tangible results, specifically the uncovering of a plot that would probably have killed thousands of people in downtown Los Angeles. Surely more such examples from the relevant 2002-06 period are likely to be revealed in the future.

The latter revelation puts the Obama administration in a very dangerous position, if any journalist would bother to ask him or his amazingly and constantly clueless Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. The President has stated repeatedly and consistently over the years that he would never have approved these interrogations, and one of his first acts as President was to indeed ban them. At least from the President, there has been no lack of clarity on this policy position.

In light of the fact that Obama opposed the methods that saved thousands of lives in this one planned attack on LA alone, this yields a very radical conclusion: Obama is effectively saying that he doesn’t regret that his policy would have killed thousands of innocent civilians working in downtown LA. Even after the fact – when we know with the hindsight of history – that this was the outcome of his proposed policy, he says that it would still have been the right thing to do.

This is shocking. Would someone be angry with George Bush if he had deliberately and knowingly agreed to let 9/11 happen, just in order to avoid inconveniencing a blood-thirsty terrorist who was already responsible for killing 3,000 US civilians? You bet! Hopefully 100% of Americans would have been outraged and called for the impeachment of George Bush, if that had been his policy.

Yet this is now not only the new policy by the Obama administration, but also a confession about what it was willing to sacrifice in the months and years following 9/11. Thousands of innocent civilians working in downtown LA, just for starters. Why isn’t there dramatic outrage about this?

Even for Obama himself, who had proven to be politically cunning in a new and unique way, this is a forfeit of dramatic proportions. Unlike the economic debates, where one economics professor’s word against the next economics professor, can be complicated and confusing to a majority of the electorate, this is relatively easy to understand – and that’s just the historical part!

Going forward, this is a ticking time bomb for Obama in more ways than one. He is now making the same mistake John McCain made in the 2008 election: agreeing to fight with one hand behind his back. McCain – for no good reason whatsoever – decided to campaign with a lot less than half the money of his opponent. In this case, Obama has told us that he is now fighting with less than half of the intelligence he could otherwise have. Why less than half? We know this because the CIA says that it obtained more than half of its critical intelligence on the relevant subjects from the EITs.

This Obama forfeit now means that in the event of another terrorist attack, the rage and blame will show up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue immediately, and for good reason. Unlike 9/11, which was a game-changer that had been building up comparatively quietly since the mid-1990s, after 9/11 we now know a lot about the motives of our opponents. They have shown what they will do for a starter, and they say they want to eradicate our entire country, preferably with the heavy hammer of nuclear bombs. Obama’s answer? Let’s not inconvenience the masterminds of these terrorist acts by showing a caterpillar bug to them, so that they could get scared and help us prevent mass murder of innocent American civilians, perhaps to the tune of millions.

Interestingly, CIA Director Leon Panetta has a different take on all of this, when compared to his boss Obama. Panetta advised against releasing these memos, partially because the act to do so was plain outright unnecessary. Even more interestingly, in his confirmation hearings Panatta introduced an exception to this no-EIT policy: Basically, if we have to do it, we will do it. Apply EITs, that is. So if this is the policy, then there really hasn’t been any change in policy, has it? Yes, if Panetta had his way, but that’s not the policy as of January 22 of this year! Obama banned EITs, and with no exceptions. Then again, that’s not to say that Obama couldn’t approve any exceptions as he goes along. Gee, my head is spinning already. Isn’t it sad when the only hope for the government to save innocent lives rests on a hope that it will act inconsistently with its current policy?

Panetta’s desired exception policy has one particular deficiency: He says would like to apply EITs only if they are “necessary.” How will we possibly know if they are necessary? If there is the proverbial ticking time-bomb, is he really saying that we will somehow already know about it, and that’s precisely imminent – but not know enough to diffuse it? That seems like an almost impossibly unique scenario. Isn’t it more likely that we simply capture a really bad guy and we ought do simply squeeze anything and everything out of him, no matter whether we know that there is a ticking time bomb somewhere out there or not? It appears from Panetta’s language that this wouldn’t be good enough. And certainly Obama hasn’t left an exception even for the ticking time bomb, at least not in the executive order he signed, which constitutes the current policy.

The fact that we have now revealed what we did, and thereby identified the outer boundaries of what we have been willing to do, means that it will be all that much harder to get information from any captured terrorist in the future. Let’s say that Obama changes his policy, or that another President reverses the policy – what will this mean for EITs? For one thing, we couldn’t just go back to the EITs as stated in the 2002-05 memos. We would have to apply far harsher methods, because the terrorists now know we were unwilling to hurt them in the past. In other words, the release of these memos only made certain that we will have no choice in the future but to graduate from these almost laughable kid-glove methods, to something that looks and sounds a lot more like actual torture. The irony…

In the meantime, in LA they now know something new about the guy they elected: In Obama’s opinion, he would rather have sacrificed thousands of you in a catastrophic 9/11 attack, than – God forbid! – having the mastermind of 9/11 share a room with a bug. This is comical in its simplicity, but revealingly serious. Regrets, anyone?

Finally, one argument often voiced needs to be killed, once and for all. It is often said by Obama and his supporters that our EIT policy served to recruit more terrorists, and was therefore counterproductive. While in theory we can never know for sure, because you can’t prove what would have happened, or will happen, if you did or do something different, we can know one thing for sure: The EITs became – per definition! – sources of rumor and debate well after 9/11. You could argue it happened five years later, in 2006. So all of these other things, including the first WTC bombing 1993, the attacks in Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and Kenya, as well as the USS Cole, Danny Pearl, the other beheadings and of course 9/11 itself, all happened before it became known that we showed a bug – or waterboarded, or smacked around – a small handful of the worst terrorists in the history of the human race. And after that time? Not a single significant terrorist attack on US soil. With the new policies, we will see how long that lasts. Obama now owns any terrorist attack that we hope doesn’t happen. And he has chosen to fight for us with one hand behind his back. That’s a dangerous political gamble.