Thursday, April 23, 2009

My Tortured Decision

FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.

One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.

It was the right decision to release these memos, as we need the truth to come out. This should not be a partisan matter, because it is in our national security interest to regain our position as the world’s foremost defenders of human rights. Just as important, releasing these memos enables us to begin the tricky process of finally bringing these terrorists to justice.

The debate after the release of these memos has centered on whether C.I.A. officials should be prosecuted for their role in harsh interrogation techniques. That would be a mistake. Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective and harmful to our national security.

Fortunately for me, after I objected to the enhanced techniques, the message came through from Pat D’Amuro, an F.B.I. assistant director, that “we don’t do that,” and I was pulled out of the interrogations by the F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller (this was documented in the report released last year by the Justice Department’s inspector general).

My C.I.A. colleagues who balked at the techniques, on the other hand, were instructed to continue. (It’s worth noting that when reading between the lines of the newly released memos, it seems clear that it was contractors, not C.I.A. officers, who requested the use of these techniques.)

As we move forward, it’s important to not allow the torture issue to harm the reputation, and thus the effectiveness, of the C.I.A. The agency is essential to our national security. We must ensure that the mistakes behind the use of these techniques are never repeated. We’re making a good start: President Obama has limited interrogation techniques to the guidelines set in the Army Field Manual, and Leon Panetta, the C.I.A. director, says he has banned the use of contractors and secret overseas prisons for terrorism suspects (the so-called black sites). Just as important, we need to ensure that no new mistakes are made in the process of moving forward — a real danger right now.

Ali Soufan was an F.B.I. supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005.


Poll: 79% approve of Michelle Obama

USA Today: in Friday's paper about a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll marking the approach of President Obama's first 100 days.

How do Americans think he's doing?

First, though, USA TODAY's Susan Page takes a look at the remarkable ratings that first lady Michelle Obama is scoring. In the survey, taken Monday and Tuesday, 79% say they approve of the way she is handling the job of first lady. Just 8% disapprove.

That's higher than her husband's approval rating, which was 64% approve-28% disapprove in the Gallup Poll posted Wednesday. Asked about her stronger showing, Obama adviser David Axelrod joked in an interview, "Fortunately, she's agreed not to run against us."

While the president's rating shows a sharp partisan divide -- Democrats overwhelmingly approve but most Republicans don't -- Michelle Obama's appeal crosses party lines. Almost every Democrat expresses approval, 94%-1%. Even among Republicans, her approval rating is a muscular 64%-17%.

Michelle Obama's rating isn't a record high for a president's wife, but it's close. The highest approval rating since Franklin Roosevelt's administration was for Laura Bush in January 2005, as her husband was being sworn in for his second term. Then, 85% said she was doing a good job. And in February 1999, Hillary Rodham Clinton -- now the secretary of State, then on her way to being elected as a New York senator -- had an approval rating of 80%.

Most first ladies can only dream of reaching that sort of territory. Keep in mind that this question has only rarely been asked about first ladies. When it has, here are the top scores of Michelle Obama's predecessors: Nancy Reagan, 58% in April 1987; Rosalynn Carter, 59% in August 1979; Pat Nixon, 54% in June 1969; and Eleanor Roosevelt, 68% in February 1940.

Joe Klein: Don't Panic — At Least Not Yet

Unlike many of my colleagues in the mass media, I am suffering from outrage-deficit disorder. It's not that I'm not angry. I am, in fact, frustrated that we've civilized ourselves out of really satisfying scapegoat rituals: The ancients would have staged a mass immolation of the AIG casino pigs in their private jets or crucified Bernie Madoff on the 18th hole at the Palm Beach Country Club, preceded by a public show trial with Jon Stewart as chief magistrate. You probably need an over-the-top catharsis or two like that to get the popular rage under control. As it is, guilt and anger are being splashed about chaotically and inefficiently--and people like Barack Obama, who had nothing at all to do with the creation of this mess, are being blamed. That is very dangerous at a moment when there is a desperate need for patience and rationality.

Over the course of too many years in this business, I have discovered that my two worst sins are anger and impatience. Anger is a double-edged sword--sometimes it is entirely justified (as when directed against the shameless torture-enabler Dick Cheney, who persists in fouling our public airwaves). Impatience, though, is a subtler problem, and it is chronic in the mass media. Indeed, it comes with the territory. There are columns to fill, commentaries to spew even when a new Administration has just begun its work and it is way too early to make definitive judgments about its policies. The worst judgments I've made as a journalist were the result of impatience. In early 1993--a moment not unlike this one--I joined the mob jumping all over the unseemly sausage-making that attended Bill Clinton's economic plan. Firmly fixated on twigs and branches--not even trees!--I missed the forest: Clinton's budget discipline led to the economic boom of the 1990s.

And so, older and marginally wiser, I'm taking the path of least crankiness in the early days of this new Administration. Sure, I'm worried that Obama isn't dealing decisively enough with the banking crisis--but, on the other hand, this is uncharted territory and maybe a cautious, case-by-case strategy will prove to be the right one. And yes, I'm worried that Obama is deferring a bit too much to the snails and toads (of both parties) in the Congress--but, on the other hand, savvy aides like Joe Biden, Rahm Emanuel and congressional liaison Phil Schiliro will focus and massage the legislative packages that will be forthcoming. It is entirely possible, as this magazine surmised last week, that Obama has taken on too much, too soon. Or maybe not. The public hasn't even seen the benefits of the tax cuts that were embedded in the stimulus bill yet. The shovels are barely ready for the new infrastructure spending.

Patience requires a bit of distance, so let's stand back for a moment. Barack Obama was elected President because the governing philosophy of the last 30 years, arrant Reaganism, had proved itself bankrupt. Reaganism was distinguished by four characteristics--at least, according to its own mythology: the belief that government was "the problem" and so less of it was better, tax-cutting (for the wealthy), deregulation and an insistence on military strength as the primary projection of American authority overseas. These were, in some cases, fantasy attributes: After lowering taxes in 1981, Reagan raised them in 1982 and 1983. In many cases, especially deregulation--I'm talking about you, Lawrence Summers--Democrats were complicit in the excesses. In almost every case, a mild form of Reaganism was a plausible corrective for the Democratic excesses that had gone before. In a few cases, like Reagan's toughness toward the Soviet Union and in some forms of deregulation, it actually worked.

What Barack Obama pledged to do during the campaign--what he is trying to do now--is to change course on every one of these Reaganite assumptions. He believes that government must be part of the solution in areas like health insurance, education and energy policy. He will, eventually, restore Clinton-era levels of taxation on the wealthy. He will re-regulate the financial markets. Overseas, he has restored the primacy of diplomacy over the use or threat of military force.

Actually, Obama's foreign policy is illustrative of his overall philosophy. It is comprehensive and complicated. In the case of Pakistan, for example, it involves diplomatic suasion, economic aid, military aid and the discreet use of military force. It will not yield results overnight. It isn't as dramatic or easily judged as an invasion. It may not, in the end, prove the right course. But, as with Obama's economic policies, it will take time to assess fairly. And so, patience, please! We can feed Obama to the Limbaugh lions if he fails ... Or maybe not, should he succeed.


AP Exclusive:
At least 87,215 Iraqis have been killed in violence since 2005, according to a previously undisclosed Iraqi government tally obtained by The Associated Press. Combined with tallies based on hospital sources and media reports since the beginning of the war and a review of available evidence by the AP, the figures show that more than 110,000 Iraqis have died in violence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The Health Ministry death tally, provided by a government official on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the data, counts deaths from the beginning of 2005 until Feb. 28. It excludes thousands of people who are missing and civilians who were buried in the chaos of war without official notice.

The figure includes only violent deaths — people killed in attacks such as shootings, bombings, mortar attacks and beheadings. It excludes indirect factors such as damage to infrastructure, health care and stress that caused thousands more to die.

Authoritative statistics for 2003 and 2004 do not exist. But Iraq Body Count, a private, British-based group, has tallied civilian deaths from media reports and other sources since the war's start. Combining its figures, which are corroborated by the AP's own reporting and that of other reputable sources, with the Health Ministry figures shows that more than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the war.

The AP reviewed the Iraq Body Count analysis and confirmed its conclusions by sifting the data and consulting experts. The AP also interviewed experts involved with previous studies, prominent Iraq analysts and provincial and medical officials to determine that the new tally was credible.


Suicide bombers kill 45 in Diyala province, 28 in Baghdad, official says

Diyala bombing targets Iranian pilgrims at restaurant, security official says

Top U.S. commander denies violent incidents have increased

Report says top al Qaeda in Iraq leader captured; U.S. can't confirm

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Suicide bombers in Iraq launched two deadly attacks Thursday, killing at least 45 people in Diyala province and at least 28 in Baghdad, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

An attacker set off a suicide vest at a restaurant in Imam Wais, a Diyala provincial security official said. The area is about 43 miles (70 kilometers) northeast of Baquba, capital of the sprawling province that is north and east of Baghdad.

The Diyala bombing, which targeted Iranian pilgrims, also wounded 28, the Interior Ministry official said.

The Diyala security official said the pilgrims -- who had been visiting Shiite shrines -- stopped for lunch at the restaurant when the attack occurred.

Many pilgrims were among the casualties, and the restaurant collapsed after the bombing, the security official said.

In central Baghdad, a bomber clad in a suicide vest attacked a crowd of national police, killing 28 police and civilians and wounding 52. Police had been helping the Red Crescent distribute aid to displaced families in the Karrada district.

Despite the declining levels of violence in Iraq over recent months, the latest strikes reflect what appears to be a slight uptick from March to April of assaults on civilians, U.S. and Iraqi security forces, and the U.S.-backed militias called Awakening Councils or Sons of Iraq.

On Wednesday, five people in Salaheddin province were killed in a suicide bombing, and a police officer was killed in Baghdad in a hand grenade attack. Also, an American soldier died of wounds suffered while conducting a patrol in eastern Baghdad.

The violence comes as the Obama administration is working to withdraw American combat troops from the country's urban areas by June 30 and eventually remove all troops from the country by the end of 2011 in accordance with the security agreement the United States and Iraq reached last year.

However, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, told CNN on Wednesday that the Iraqi government may decide to allow boots on the ground in some urban areas past June.

Odierno said he believes troops will withdraw from volatile Baquba but noted that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will have to make a decision about Mosul -- where al Qaeda in Iraq militants have been active.

"We'll see. You know, it's still two months away, so we'll have to see what progress we're able to make, but that will be a joint assessment between us and the Iraqis," Odierno said.

Odierno said there have been a couple of high-profile violent events this month, but the number of incidents hasn't gone up. He said he is pleased with security progress.

"I don't see any trend of increased violence yet," he said. "I still want to get rid of the al Qaeda capability to conduct high-profile attacks, and we have not yet been able to completely finish that. So we still have some work ahead of us."

Odierno said he is concerned about the chances of political violence, including the spillover of tensions in the north of Iraq between Kurds and Arabs. He urged Iraqi leaders to pursue political negotiations and accommodation.

"I would still like to see political progress," Odierno said.

Thursday's attacks came on the same day Iraq's military announced the capture of a top al Qaeda in Iraq leader.

Iraq State TV, quoting a general, said Omar al-Baghdadi, head of an al Qaeda umbrella group, was seized in Baghdad during a major military operation.

The U.S. military has not yet confirmed the development. Two years ago, there were erroneous reports that al-Baghdadi had been captured and killed


This is a MORAL & STRATEGIC blunder beyond belief!
The costs in money and lives is just mind boggling considering

Poll: Americans High on Obama, Direction of US

WASHINGTON (AP) -- For the first time in years, more Americans than not say the country is headed in the right direction, a sign that Barack Obama has used the first 100 days of his presidency to lift the public's mood and inspire hopes for a brighter future.

Intensely worried about their personal finances and medical expenses, Americans nonetheless appear realistic about the time Obama might need to turn things around, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. It shows most Americans consider their new president to be a strong, ethical and empathetic leader who is working to change Washington.

Nobody knows how long the honeymoon will last, but Obama has clearly transformed the yes-we-can spirit of his candidacy into a tool of governance. His ability to inspire confidence -- Obama's second book is titled ''The Audacity of Hope'' -- has thus far buffered the president against the harsh political realities of two wars, a global economic meltdown and countless domestic challenges.

''He presents a very positive outlook,'' said Cheryl Wetherington, 35, an independent voter who runs a chocolate shop in Gardner, Kan. ''He's very well-spoken and very vocal about what direction should be taken.''

But other AP-GfK findings could signal trouble for Obama as he approaches his 100th day in office, April 29:

--While there is evidence that people feel more optimistic about the economy, 65 percent said it's difficult for them and their families to get ahead. More than one-third know of a family member who recently lost a job.

--More than 90 percent of Americans consider the economy an important issue, the highest ever in AP polling.

--Nearly 80 percent believe that the rising federal debt will hurt future generations, and Obama is getting mixed reviews at best for his handling of the issue.

And yet, the percentage of Americans saying the country is headed in the right direction rose to 48 percent, up from 40 percent in February. Forty-four percent say the nation is on the wrong track.

Not since January 2004, shortly after the capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, has an AP survey found more ''right direction'' than ''wrong direction'' respondents.

So far, Obama has defied the odds by producing a sustained trend toward optimism. It began with his election.

But he is aware that his political prospects are directly linked to such numbers. If at the end of his term the public is no more assured that Washington is competent and accountable and that the nation is at least on the right track, his re-election prospects will be doubtful.

''I will be held accountable,'' Obama said a few weeks into his presidency. ''You know, I've got four years. ... If I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition.''

The AP-GfK poll suggests that 64 percent of the public approves of Obama's job performance, down just slightly from 67 percent in February. President George W. Bush's approval ratings hovered in the high 50s after his first 100 days in office.

But Obama also has become a somewhat polarizing figure, with just 24 percent of Republicans approving of his performance -- down from 33 percent in February. Obama campaigned on a promise -- just as Bush had -- to end the party-first mind-set that breeds gridlock in Washington.

Obama is not the first president who sought to tap the deep well of American optimism -- the never-say-die spirit that Americans like to see in themselves.

Even as he briefly closed the nation's banks, Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke in the first days of his presidency of the ''confidence and courage'' needed to fix the U.S. economy. ''Together we cannot fail,'' he declared.

''When Obama came in,'' said D.T. Brown, 39, a Mount Vernon, Ill., radio show host who voted against Obama, ''it was just a breath of fresh air.''

Others said their newfound optimism had nothing to do with Obama, but rather with an era of personal responsibility they believe has come with the economic meltdown.

''I think people are beginning to turn in that direction and realize that there's not always going to be somebody to catch them when things fall down,'' said Dwight Hageman, 66, a retired welder from Newberg, Ore., who voted against Obama.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted April 16-20 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media. It involved telephone interviews on landline and cell phones with 1,000 adults nationwide. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.