The word “torture” apparently has all but vanished from the White House lexicon.
In the wake of President Obama’s decision not to prosecute those connected with Bush’s torture program, Obama and his top aides have dramatically scaled back their use of the word “torture” — a sharp contrast with their frequent use of it earlier this year to describe Bush-era techniques Obama banned upon taking office. Instead, they have been regularly employing euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
The use of the word “torture” is politically treacherous for the White House right now: It’s a reminder that those granted immunity by Obama used techniques prohibited by the international treaties Obama has vowed to uphold.
A quick look at many of the public statements by Obama and his advisers since the release of the torture memos last week shows that use of the word has all but evaporated.
At the White House press briefing yesterday, press sec Robert Gibbs avoided the word “torture,” instead using the phrase “enhanced interrogations” twice in answering a questioner who had used the T-word. At a religious conference yesterday, according to reporter Beth Marlowe, top adviser David Axelrod refrained from the T-word and instead referred four times either to “these practices,” “techniques,” or “enhanced interrogation tactics.”
In an ABC News interview on Sunday, Rahm Emanuel referred to “these techniques and practices.” In his statement last Thursday announcing the release of the torture memos, Obama repeatedly referred to “interrogation techniques,” a phrase he repeated during his speech to CIA employees yesterday.
By contrast, in the days and weeks after Obama signed executive orders revoking Bush-era torture techniques in January — and the White House wanted to signal a clean break with Bush practices — he and his top advisers used the T-word again and again.
I suspect the reason they’re cutting back on the use of the word is because they’ve already politicized it enough that it will carry on in news reports, op/ed pieces, and the like for months while they sit back and act like they’re taking the “high road” by “moving on.”
Marc Thiessen, who worked in various positions in the Bush admin for the full 8 years, writes this about the memos:
In releasing highly classified documents on the CIA interrogation program last week, President Obama declared that the techniques used to question captured terrorists “did not make us safer.” This is patently false. The proof is in the memos Obama made public — in sections that have gone virtually unreported in the media.
Consider the Justice Department memo of May 30, 2005. It notes that “the CIA believes ‘the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001.’ . . . In particular, the CIA believes that it would have been unable to obtain critical information from numerous detainees, including [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] and Abu Zubaydah, without these enhanced techniques.” The memo continues: “Before the CIA used enhanced techniques . . . KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, ‘Soon you will find out.’ ” Once the techniques were applied, “interrogations have led to specific, actionable intelligence, as well as a general increase in the amount of intelligence regarding al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
Specifically, interrogation with enhanced techniques “led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the ‘Second Wave,’ ‘to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into’ a building in Los Angeles.” KSM later acknowledged before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay that the target was the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. The memo explains that “information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, and the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemmah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the ‘Second Wave.’ ” In other words, without enhanced interrogations, there could be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York.
The memo notes that “[i]nterrogations of [Abu] Zubaydah — again, once enhanced techniques were employed — furnished detailed information regarding al Qaeda’s ‘organizational structure, key operatives, and modus operandi’ and identified KSM as the mastermind of the September 11 attacks.” This information helped the intelligence community plan the operation that captured KSM. It went on: “Zubaydah and KSM also supplied important information about al-Zarqawi and his network” in Iraq, which helped our operations against al-Qaeda in that country.
Read the whole thing. It makes Cheney’s call for the CIA to release more memos showing the interrogations worked even more imperative.
Noting that in late March Cheney had already made a request to the CIA to release this information (Cheney’s working on his memoirs), Stephen F. Hayes blasts Obama on his failure to release the results of the interrogations when he released the memos, and for using the memos for political gain:
Barack Obama has made two mistakes: 1) such blatant politicizing of intelligence, and, 2) thinking he can get away with it.
This is Obama’s arrogance at its worst. The president and his advisers seem to think that because the world loves him — and because he remains popular here at home, too — his decisions will escape serious scrutiny.
This should be the end of the Obama honeymoon. The country has debated the politicization of intelligence for the last seven years. In that time, we have probably never seen such a clear example of that phenomenon. And though most reporters would surely agree with Obama on enhanced interrogation, they cannot give him a pass on this. It should be a very, very uncomfortable day for Robert Gibbs today.
What is the Obama administration’s substantive response to Cheney’s request?
The president might refer back to a memo he wrote on January 21, 2009, the day after he was sworn in. Obama pledged to run an open government, one that favors transparency as its guiding principle. He wrote that “executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.”
After all: “The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”
Stay tuned …
Update – 3:26 PM: Torture Trials – Bring It On!