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Prosecuting Heroes

May 12, 2009

Prosecuting Heroes

National Security: The Justice Department may launch a witch hunt against those who organized the enhanced interrogation of terrorists. That’s no way to treat people who saved so many lives.

The American public has just seen how policy based on campaign rhetoric can come crashing into the reality of a successful past policy.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, as a retired admiral who commanded the Navy in the Pacific and served on the White House’s National Security Council, must be smarter than his recent statements make him out to be.

In a private memo to spy agency employees last week, made public by Blair this week, he conceded that “high value information” was obtained by the enhanced interrogation techniques the Bush administration authorized the CIA to use on terrorist detainees.

They gave “a deeper understanding of the al-Qaida network,” according to President Obama’s choice to oversee America’s network of 16 intelligence agencies.

In a subsequent statement, however, Blair added that “there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.”

In the original memo, he remarks that “(I) like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given.”

It looks like a troubling case of angst has taken hold of those charged with keeping our country safe.

But you simply cannot have it both ways. When Blair agonizes about hoping he “would not have approved those methods,” does he not realize that not approving those methods would have meant hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans killed?

“Read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, (those interrogations) appear graphic and disturbing,” Blair said. Yet those methods foiled terrorist plots, in particular Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s graphic and disturbing plan to fly a passenger jet into the Library Tower in Los Angeles, the West Coast’s tallest skyscraper.

How can Blair really believe, as he claimed this week, that “the bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security”?

How can “image” trump the saving of lives in national security policy?

On Tuesday, the president called it “a decision for the attorney general” whether those in the Bush administration who provided legal backing for the enhanced interrogations would be prosecuted — this after claiming he wasn’t interested in any such witch hunts.

Meanwhile, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., has released a report claiming that CIA and Pentagon officials prepared groundwork for the enhanced techniques before receiving a legal OK — as if being prepared to help protect the nation constitutes a smoking gun.

Levin contends they “bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses.”

Far from abuse, they were serving the nation more than the average senator. All those involved in this program are owed a debt of gratitude from all of us.

They certainly don’t deserve to be hounded by the Justice Department or Congress.

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