Sunday, March 09, 2008

President Remains Commander in Chief

President Bush wielded the power of the veto pen over the bill that would have limited the CIA to using the same interrogation techniques used by Army interrogators.

This was a courageous and correct veto on the part of President Bush, but not just for the reasons he gave.

( reader rbdwiggins gives the text, linked above for the President's veto of H.R. 2082, the "Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008." This is cross-posted there.)

Those interested can follow here for the text of the bill itself, being notorious for URL-shifting.]

The future adults at the Talking Points Memo (w/t) are apopleptic, crying "Impeach! Impeach!" -- or perhaps it was just once, as it's hard to tell in that echo chamber.

The President was clear in his reasons for the veto:

The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror -- the CIA program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives. This program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us prevent a number of attacks. The program helped us stop a plot to strike a U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti, a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, a plot to hijack a passenger plane and fly it into Library Tower in Los Angeles, and a plot to crash passenger planes into Heathrow Airport or buildings in downtown London. And it has helped us understand al Qaida's structure and financing and communications and logistics. Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaida and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.

The main reason this program has been effective is that it allows the CIA to use specialized interrogation procedures to question a small number of the most dangerous terrorists under careful supervision. The bill Congress sent me would deprive the CIA of the authority to use these safe and lawful techniques. Instead, it would restrict the CIA's range of acceptable interrogation methods to those provided in the Army Field Manual. The procedures in this manual were designed for use by soldiers questioning lawful combatants captured on the battlefield. They were not intended for intelligence professionals trained to question hardened terrorists.

On has to wonder: if the CIA is limited to the same techniques as the Army, would there be any need for the CIA to interrogate? And once the front-line soldiers and officers interrogate an enemy combatant, having published our interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual the enemy combatant would know what to expect and be ready for it, even if the CIA's questioners were more hightly skilled.

From a pure political calculation, some on the right who oppose non-standard interrogation (NSI) will be disheartened by this news. But they are missing a key point: this veto gives John McCain distance from President Bush, which he can exploit with independent voters, on an issue which is probably not as important to the war on terror as it's made out to be.

Because whether or not we use NSI or even full-on torture on detainees is not as important in the overall fight against them as is keeping our playbook hidden from the enemy. This bill would have exposed our methods to our foes, and if only for that reason deserved a veto.

But in the event that some madman was ready to explode a nuclear bomb in a major U.S. city, would we want to keep that information a secret? Or would we rather use every technique known to man to stop it?

Obviously we don't use non-standard interrogation on every detainee; that's why it's non-standard. But like our own nuclear arsenal, these techniques should be available to us, in all their horror.

Congressional Democrats know these things, but are shamefully demagoguing them just to score partisan political points.

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