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Reward, Don't Punish CIA Interrogators

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
While the Obama administration deservedly revels in the success of the U.S. operation to kill Osama bin Laden this week, one question remains: Why is the Justice Department threatening criminal prosecution of the men who made the mission possible?

CIA Director Leon Panetta has acknowledged that the initial information that led to the discovery of bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad came, in part, from information obtained by "enhanced interrogation techniques against some of those detainees." Yet, Attorney General Holder persists in what appears to be a vendetta against these very CIA interrogators.

In August 2009, Holder ordered a continued investigation into "enhanced interrogation" techniques used by the CIA, even though an earlier investigation by career prosecutors concluded that no crimes were committed. The irony in all of this is made worse by President Obama's acknowledgment of intelligence agencies' role when he announced that bin Laden had been killed.

"Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who've worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome," Obama said. "The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice."

Some thanks. Instead of admitting that CIA waterboarding provided vital information -- including the nom de guerre of the courier who led us to bin Laden -- the administration appears to want CIA operatives behind bars.

What seems clear is that Obama came into office with one set of assumptions about what it takes to protect national security and has changed his mind after two years of intelligence briefings and firsthand experience. It was easy for candidate Obama to criticize President Bush for authorizing what Obama called "torture" and quite another to be confronted with what it takes to protect Americans from another devastating attack.

But Holder may not have gotten the message. It is noteworthy that among those gathered in the Situation Room to watch the bin Laden mission unfold, Holder was nowhere to be seen.

Among the many inconsistencies in the Obama administration's disavowal of enhanced interrogation is its willingness to use lethal force. I have no problem with the decision to kill bin Laden, regardless of whether he was armed at the time or posed a direct threat to the Navy SEALs who took him out. He declared war on the U.S. and has publicly admitted that he was responsible for the 3,000 deaths on 9/11.

The president's spokesman has finally confirmed that bin Laden had no weapon when he was killed and that he did not use his wife as a human shield, as initial accounts suggested. Indeed, the only armed resistance came early in the 38-minute mission, when bin Laden's courier -- the one whose name CIA interrogators obtained from enhanced interrogation -- fired on SEALs as they entered the compound's outer buildings.

So the president is perfectly willing to kill terrorists but not willing to waterboard them? It makes no sense.

Holder has already had to reverse himself on military tribunals for detainees and has admitted that Guantanamo will not likely be closed before 2013. It's seems that both decisions were influenced by the fact that Obama knew that bin Laden was within our grasp. Even Holder couldn't imagine putting bin Laden in a U.S. jail and trying him in criminal court.

Obama has taken much of the credit for making the decision to go after bin Laden and to risk American lives in taking him on the ground: "(L)ast August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice."

It was the right decision -- but the president should reward all those who made it possible, including those initial CIA interrogators. It's time for the administration to admit its error and drop the investigation of the intelligence professionals whose work ended in bin Laden's death.

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