Thursday, April 16, 2009

A "seam-ly" internal Administration debate resolved?

So this is how Obama divided the torture memo baby: 1) the memos are released; 2) CIA operatives who conducted the torture will not be prosecuted; and 3) the President asserts his right (in fact his "duty") "to vigorously maintain the classified nature of certain activities and information related to national security."

The seams of internal Administration debate show in Obama's Statement on the Memos, but in a good way. There is an implicit rebuttal of those who argued that releasing the memos would compromise national security, balanced by an implicit nod to those who argued to protect CIA operatives, and further balanced by the "reservation of rights" to withhold other documents cited above.

Note the weave back and forth between the opposed camps through the heart of the memo, and note that there's no "triangulation" here, just a sober balancing of powerful interests:
While I believe strongly in transparency and accountability, I also believe that in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security. I have already fought for that principle in court and will do so again in the future. However, after consulting with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and others, I believe that exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release.

First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program – and some of the practices – associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.
Note that Obama decided to protect the operatives -- not necessarily those who devised and approved the policies authorizing torture - though he did say
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.
I would have to disagree with him there. The United States is required by law - international and domestic - to prosecute those who authorized torture. We will see how the Adminstration handles this duty over the long haul.

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