When he decided to release selected and redacted documents on terrorist interrogation used by the CIA after 9/11, President Barack Obama said “we should be looking forward and not backwards.” It is impossible to tell whether this statement was calculated or just naive, however, the political firestorm the document release has created is indisputable.
The debate over the rightness of releasing the memos will continue, but the danger of telegraphing operational practices to al-Qaeda is no longer relevant–all the facts about how the interrogators did their job are now available.
What has not been released, however, is all the other relevant information about the program that would help Americans better understand both how it worked and how effective it was. For example, former Vice President Cheney noted in an interview, “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort.” The Vice President stated that he had previously asked for the declassification of additional memos.
It is far from clear whether compromising and limiting interrogation techniques is prudent and adequately meets all the requirements of good security policy–safeguarding national security, upholding the rule of law, and protecting civil and human rights. The President should move quickly to address this failure by taking the following steps:
- First, the Administration should release all the memos requested by former Vice President Cheney, thereby providing Americans the fullest and most transparent accounting possible of interrogation policies and their effects;
- Second, the President should immediately convene a high-level non-partisan commission of senior intelligence and military professionals to review the efficacy of the recently announced Obama interrogation policies;
- Third, the President should dampen calls for a partisan witch hunt against former Bush Administration officials;
- Finally, the Administration should provide a comprehensive list detailing which Members of Congress were briefed about these terrorist interrogation tactics.