Thursday, April 23, 2009

Survey: 58% of Americans think Obama's release of CIA "torture" memos endangers U.S. security

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (R) and co-defendants Walid Bin Attash (C) and Ramzi Bin al Shibh at Gitmo hearing: not many Americans are fretting about their treatment

IMHO, President Obama is about to walk into a fight he will not win, if he doesn't stand up to the left wing of his party -- my party -- and put an end to talk of raking Bush-era officials and CIA officers over the coals for harshly interrogating Khalid Sheik Mohammed and a few other al Qaeda leaders and operatives.

According to a new poll, 58% of all voters believe the Obama administration’s release of the CIA "torture" memos endangers the national security of the United States, while only 28% believe the release of the memos helps America’s image abroad, the reason Obama has given for making them public.

Americans aren't stupid. They are following this issue, and they do understand the moral, political and strategic choices involved. Their verdict is not to worry so much about the treatment of al Qaeda detainees.

A couple of other key findings:

-- 37% now believe the U.S. legal system worries too much about protecting individual rights when national security is at stake, while 21% say the legal system is too concerned about protecting national security, and 33% say the balance between the two is about right. This reflects a significant shift over the past couple of years -- as the public debate about harsh interrogation and other aggressive steps in the campaign against al Qaeda has heated up -- with more Americans saying that concerns about detainees' rights are overblown.

-- Only 28% think the Obama administration should do any further investigating of how the Bush administration treated terrorism suspects -- 28% -- while 58% are opposed. Potentially decisive as a political matter, 62% of independent voters oppose further more investigations.

I disagree with conservative bloggers who contend that probing or prosecuting Bush officials will "destroy his presidency." Americans are fully capable of making distinctions and supporting Obama on the economy and other major issues, while giving a thumbs down to recriminations about how exactly al Qaeda was held at bay for the past eight years.

But the support for such recriminations simply is not there, and there is no way to gin it up just because Patrick Leahy or Nancy Pelosi want to exact some revenge. And needless to say, no one associated with the Bush Administration and no one in the intelligence community, past or present, is going to sit still as fingers are pointed at them. There will be a messy, drawn-out, all-consuming battle -- with the likelihood that roughly two thirds of American voters won't be sympathetic to the Democrats' side of the dispute.

Obama understands the politics of this, which is why he has sought to distance himself from "looking backward." But some of his political friends and allies are doing their best to stick him with an unnecessary and unwinable fight. He'd best do something quickly to stop them.

Have an opinion about this (and who doesn't)? Post a comment.


  1. We are a nation that tortures.

    No moral highground.

  2. 2 words; Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We as US citizens DEMAND results, not 10 years of gobbledygook if this version of torture is OK or not.

  3. I think it is interesting that Obama only released redacted versions of the memos. Coincidentally, all the information that we were able to glean (not classified now) was left out. In other words, Obama, whose stated purpose was to revive the US world image?, released portions of memos that described the enhanced measures and the legal opinions about their legitimacy but left out all of the information about whether these measures aided our intelligence gathering. Hmm.

    Further, and more importantly, Congress was regularly briefed on all of this. Absolutely all of it. And they all voted to allow it to continue. For the same people to now grandstand and call for show trials is so preposterous.

    The lawyers who opined on the legality of waterboarding and other enhanced measures did so in good faith. Yoo, a professor at Berkley, researched the issue and informed his boss, the President, that so long as interrogation measures did not threaten serious bodily injury or permanent harm, it does not constitute torture. There were than many levels of safeguards implemented to ensure that only high-ranking officials who had clearance from the highest levels of government could employ such tactics. Is that so preposterous as to rise to the level of a war crime? Then Congress should not have passed on it, too.

    One final piece of information: the US military waterboards its own men and women as part of routine training.

    Obama's wishy-washing on this is despicable. If he doesn't want to prosecute, then he needs to make a firm stand.