What was more interesting was the accompanying statement by the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, trying to justify Obama’s decision–or at least put it “into perspective.” The perspective, the context, is that in the months after 9/11, “we did not have a clear understanding of the enemy we were dealing with, and our every effort was focused on preventing further attacks that would kill more Americans. It was during these months that the CIA was struggling to obtain critical information from captured al Qaida leaders, and requested permission to use harsher interrogation methods. The OLC memos make clear that senior legal officials judged the harsher methods to be legal.”
Blair continues: “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing. As the President has made clear, and as both CIA Director Panetta and I have stated, we will not use those techniques in the future. But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos and those guidelines.”
So: We were once in danger. Now we live in “a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009.” Now, in April 2009, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence seems to be saying, we’re safe.
Yes, September 11 was a bright, sunny day too – and too many of us thought we were safe then as well.
Now, it’s true that in the rapid, multifaceted mobilization against terrorism that took place in late 2001 and early 2002, there were a vast number of decisions made quickly on the basis of incomplete information; it’s only natural that as the anti-terror effort has become part of the permanent institutions of government, there would be some rethinking of which of those emergency measures to make permanent and which to put back on the shelf. Maybe exposing detainees to caterpillars or pushing them against a “fake, flexible wall” or “Grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion” are horrors beyond our imagining these days – as opposed to things most of us would associate with grammar school – but it’s far more frightening to me to hear the DNI telling us that we’re too safe these days to worry anymore about the need to get intelligence quickly out of captured terrorists.