After 9/11, Americans wanted one thing from Washington: to prevent future terrorist attacks. President George W. Bush, the CIA and other hard-working officials delivered. For their trouble, a handful of those individuals now have reason to fear that they may be ruined.
My guess is that President Obama realizes it was a big mistake for his administration to release four memos written by Bush administration lawyers sanctioning enhanced interrogation techniques. Already, rage on the left has prompted Obama to go squishy on his once-insistent opposition to prosecuting any Bush administration officials. Now he says he might let his attorney general prosecute Bush lawyers.
That would be criminalizing the politics of 2002. George Tenet wrote in his book "At the Center of the Storm," "After 9/11, gripped by the same emotions and fears, Congress exhorted the intelligence community to take more risks to protect the country." Civil rights? Then-Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., noted at a 2002 Senate intelligence committee that "we are not living in times in which lawyers can say no to an operation just to play it safe." Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz defended the use of rough treatment -- "the third degree" -- in order "to elicit information from terrorists about continuing threats." The Bush administration authorized techniques that the ACLU calls torture.
Seven years later, Obama banned those techniques, as he promised. But in releasing the memos last week, Obama unwittingly reinforced Osama bin Laden's view of America as a country of pantywaists. Now America's enemies know they have nothing to fear but bad lawyering if U.S. forces catch them.
The memos describe "enhanced" techniques used on 28 high-value detainees. Protocol called for operatives to begin with tamer methods. To wit: the "attention grasp," the "facial slap" and "dietary manipulation -- that is, "presenting detainees with a bland, unappetizing but nutritionally complete diet." Read: Ensure Plus. Really.
"Walling" involved pushing a detainee into a wall -- but a phony wall to prevent injury. The CIA was going to try to scare al-Qaida biggie Abu Zubaydah with insects, but the bugs had to be harmless and not cause an allergic reaction. I can see the al-Qaida boys chortling in their cave over the very idea that these techniques would even be controversial -- not to mention out of bounds under the Obama administration.