As President Obama approaches day 100 of his administration, some in Washington caution that the torture tug-of-war could be a costly distraction.
Earlier this month, the Obama administration released four Bush-era memos detailing “enhanced interrogations” of suspected al Qaeda members. Now, the White House is reviewing former Vice President Dick Cheney’s request to make more memos public. Two weeks before Obama released any memos, Cheney submitted a request to the National Archives calling for the release of other documents. He says that what he requested will prove that the Bush interrogation tactics — which critics have called a torture program — worked. “I haven’t talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country,” Cheney said in an interview with Fox News last week. The White House is signaling that not only is it considering honoring Cheney’s request, it may go even further. “I think the president, as you know, is a big believer in transparency,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I think one of the things that will have to be examined is whether there are additional memos that have to be released that give a broader picture of what’s gone on in enhanced interrogation techniques.” The almost daily revelations are dividing Democrats between those calling for full disclosure and those urging caution.
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“We don’t just turn the page without reading it. We want to make sure what the mistakes were so that the Obama administration doesn’t make these mistakes,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. said Sunday. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, warned Sunday against moving to quickly. “We need to find these things out, and we need to do it in a way that’s calm and deliberative and professional, because I think all of this, on the front burner, before the public, does harm our intelligence gathering, it does harm America’s position in the world,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Across the aisle, Republicans are insisting the Justice Department drop any investigation of Bush administration officials who authorized harsh interrogations. “I think that would be a stab in the back. I think he has already demoralized the CIA, put them in a CYA mode,” Sen. Kit Bond, R-Missouri, said Sunday on Fox News. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, said prosecuting those who gave legal advice is wrong. “I don’t think those memos should have been released, but the fundamental point now is whether to prosecute people who gave the president, in my view, legitimate advice, even though it was wrong,” he said. “We should not be prosecuting people who gave legal advice. It’s wrong to do that to them, and it sets a terrible precedent for the future.” Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, and House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio are calling on the White House to release a list of who was briefed about the interrogation programs. “Congress and the American people deserve a full and complete set of facts about what information was yielded by CIA’s interrogation program, and they deserve to know which of their representatives in Congress were briefed about these techniques and the extent of those briefings,” Boehner said in a statement Monday. “To date, the administration has fallen short in providing this information. … The American people have been provided an incomplete picture of exactly what intelligence was made available by the interrogation program,” he said.
But Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent, said the whole debate over the memos is “moot.” “What do we gain, first, by releasing the memos; but, secondly, what do we gain from indicting lawyers for their opinions, if that is a possibility here … It will poison the water here in Washington. It will achieve nothing. It will make it harder for President Obama to do some of the big things he wants to do for the country,” he said.