The Watergate of Waterboarding

The political war over the CIA’s waterboarding of terrorist detainees continues. It can only end if President Obama reverses course and deals honestly with the question of whether waterboarding — performed on three out of hundreds of terrorist detainees since 9-11, and stopped in late summer 2003 — resulted in our obtaining valuable intelligence that led to the interdiction of terrorist attacks and saved American lives.

Vice President Cheney says it did and requested that the Obama White House release a small set of now-classified documents that would prove the point. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that an investigation into the Abu Ghraib abuses by his committee “…gives the lie to Mr. Cheney’s claims.”

But Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), ranking member of the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in an April face-off with Levin on Fox News, said the report contained a strong dissent from five members of Levin’s committee saying it was fallacious and counterproductive.

Another Michigander, Republican Cong. Pete Hoekstra — ranking member of the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence — told me that he had reviewed the documents requested by Cheney and that they showed that the enhanced interrogation techniques had worked.

As Mr. Cheney said in his AEI speech on May 21, the Obama administration believes, “…the public has the right to know the method of the questions, but not the content of the answers.”

Obama has released the so-called “torture memos” — including legal opinions of the Justice Department which advised that under the law as it was written in 2002, waterboarding was legal. Because they are now public, his decision to release has damaged our national security by hobbling the ability of interrogators to get valuable information from prisoners.

The release gave terrorists an enormous advantage because they now know what our interrogators can and cannot do. But the president insists that they were released for compelling reasons which — he contends — do not exist with respect to the documents Cheney asked for.

Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, has said in writing, “High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al-Queda organization that was attacking this country.”

Blair’s statement was later revised — in a political move by the Obama administration — to delete that sentence.

Former CIA Director George Tenet has said, “I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.”

And reporting on the interrogation methods used at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba facility, the August 2004 Schlesinger Commission report said, “At Guantanamo, the interrogators used those additional techniques with only two detainees, gaining important and time-urgent information in the process.” (Emphasis added)

The only way this can be resolved is for Obama to release the documents Cheney asked for which, so far, Obama has refused to do. He said that the declassification and release of the “torture memos” was for compelling reasons which are not present with regard to the Cheney documents.

The controversy has been focused on a collateral (and nearly as important) issue: what did Nancy Pelosi know and when did she know it? When Congress recessed for Memorial Day, House Speaker Richard Milhous Pelosi was at loggerheads with CIA Director Leon Panetta over whether she had been briefed on the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on September 4, 2002.

Pelosi denied that the CIA had done so after I reported on May 7 that the Director of National Security released a summary of briefings to congressional leaders that showed Pelosi had been briefed that day on “…EIT’s including the use of EIT’s on Abu Zubaydah, background of authorities and a description of the particular EITs that had been employed.”

That belied Pelosi’s earlier statements that she was informed about the techniques — which included waterboarding — but was also told that they hadn’t been used. In an angry press conference the day before the recess, Pelosi then accused the CIA of lying, which spurred former Clinton White House Chief of Staff and now CIA Director Leon Panetta to issue a public statement that the summary of briefings was correct and supported by contemporaneous documentation.

If you’re angry and bewildered by this Democrat-driven media debate, fear not. As one Republican senator told me, “If you’re not confused, you’re not thinking clearly.”

Now, the political war over waterboarding has taken its first casualty. Phillip Mudd — nominated by President Obama to be Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis in the Department of Homeland Security — withdrew after it became clear that his confirmation would be focused on his knowledge of and involvement in the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” while he was deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis during the Bush administration.

Mudd’s fate sends a clear message to everyone in the government — especially the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community — that whoever was involved in the terrorist interrogations and knew of or participated in waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques has no future. Your careers are over. There will be no promotions, nothing but second-guessing and vilification in congressional hearings.

Hoekstra told me, “If thus guy was withdrawn because of his involvement in enhanced interrogation techniques, it’s outrageous.”

Pelosi and the anti-waterboarding warriors are fighting against our intelligence community. In another episode last week, Pelosi illustrated her dedication to what she said in January 2006 would be the “most honest and open” congress in history. “Open” means giving terrorists information they can use.

According to congressional sources, staffers in the office of the House Parliamentarian — who work for Pelosi — sent the International Atomic Energy Agency’s list of America’s most sensitive nuclear sites to the Government Printing Office with instructions to publish it. One source told me the list was a “treasure map for terrorists.”

This was not, as Pelosi’s spinmeisters are saying, a mistake. Pelosi’s minions are now trying to gather up all the documents that show it was intentional.

Pelosi’s problems are important, but whatever damage she sustains is collateral to the central issue: the Obama administration’s actions are thwarting our intelligence community’s ability to protecting America from terrorist attack by extracting information from terrorist detainees by every lawful method.

Unless we can know if waterboarding worked, we cannot know whether it — and the law as it existed in 2002 — were right and whether Obama’s actions, and Congress’s in changing the law in 2005, were wrong. Every bit of evidence we have now points to the latter conclusion.

It would be unfair, so far, to apply to congressional Republicans what the late Israeli Prime Minister Abba Eban once said of the Palestinians: they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. But there is no more important task for the Republicans than to force the release of the Cheney documents.

Obama is engaged in a coverup and partnering with Pelosi to damage our national security. If legal but harsh interrogations worked to save American lives, they must be reinstituted regardless of political gain or loss.