“That is a fair operational and analytical question (effectiveness in intelligence gathering) for the report by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democratic majority to raise and argue. Likewise, it can and should be debated whether America should ever again use such methods to prevent terrorist attacks…
…What is decidedly unfair is to belatedly attack the brave and dedicated men and women and their leaders at the CIA who had the nation’s highest political and legal authorizations for this program.”, Louis J. Freeh, “Senate Democrats and 9/11 Amnesia”, Wall Street Journal
Senate Democrats and 9/11 Amnesia
The Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogations fails to acknowledge the Pearl Harbor-esque emergency following the terror attack.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill about the committee’s report on the CIA interrogation program, Dec. 9. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News
By Louis J. Freeh
Seventy-three years ago this week, on a peaceful, sunny morning in Hawaii, a Japanese armada carried out a spectacular attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,403, wounding 1,178 and damaging or destroying at least 20 ships. Washington immediately declared war and mobilized a peaceful nation. In another unfortunate Washington tendency, the government launched an investigation about who to blame for letting the devastating surprise attack happen. A hastily convened political tribunal found two senior military officers guilty of dereliction of duty, publicly humiliating them, as some political leaders sought to hold anyone but themselves accountable for the catastrophe.
With the Democratic members of the SenateIntelligence Committee this week releasing a report on their investigation holding the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency accountable for the alleged “torture” of suspected terrorists after 9/11, some lessons from the Pearl Harbor history should be kept in mind.
First, let’s remember the context of the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when President George W. Bush and Congress put America on a war footing. While some critics in and out of government blamed the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for failing to prevent the terrorist attack, the 9/11 Commission later concluded that part of the real reason the terrorists succeeded was Washington’s failure to put America on a war footing long before the attack. Sept. 11, 2001, was the final escalation of al Qaeda’s war-making after attacking the USS Cole in 2000 and U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.
The Intelligence Committee’s majority report fails to acknowledge the Pearl Harbor-esque state of emergency that followed the 9/11 attack. One week after the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, President Bush signed into law a congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which granted the president authority to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
This joint congressional resolution, which has never been amended, was not a broad declaration of a “war on terror,” but rather a specific, targeted authorization to use force against the 9/11 terrorists and to prevent their future attacks.
Similarly, the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program, which included the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, was designed and implemented as the direct result of the president and Congress putting the country on a military, law-enforcement and intelligence war footing after 9/11. The program was carefully targeted and sought to apprehend the 9/11 terrorists and prevent them from striking again.
More important, the RDI program was not some rogue operation unilaterally launched by a Langley cabal—which is the impression that the Senate Intelligence Committee report tries to convey. Rather, the program was an initiative approved by the president, the national security adviser and the U.S. attorney general, backed by a legal opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which functions as the president’s outside counsel in such matters. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their closest advisers at the time have confirmed that they were unified behind the RDI program; they should have been interviewed by the Democratic majority in preparing the report on the CIA interrogations.
The RDI program, including the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, was fully briefed to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees. The Senate committee’s new report does not present any evidence that would support the notion that the CIA program was carried out for years without the concurrence of the House or Senate intelligence committees, or that any of the members were shocked to learn of the program after the fact.
Facts matter, including the fact that the Senate committee’s Democratic majority failed to interview the three CIA directors and three deputy directors, or any other CIA employee for that matter, who had briefed them about the program and carried it out.
Such a glaring investigative lapse cannot be fairly explained by the Democratic majority’s defense that it could make such crucial findings solely on the “paper record,” without interviewing the critical players. Nor does the committee’s other explanation for avoiding interviews make sense: The Democratic senators say they didn’t want to interfere with the Justice Department’s criminal inquiry into the RDI program, but that investigation ended in 2012 and found no basis for prosecutions. And no wonder: These public servants at the CIA had dutifully carried out mandates from the president and Congress.
CIA leaders and briefers who regularly updated this program to the Senate Intelligence Committee leadership took what investigators call “copious, contemporaneous notes.” Without a doubt, the Senate Intelligence Committee and congressional staffers at these multiple briefings also took a lot of their own notes. Will the committee now declassify and release all such notes so that Americans will know exactly what the senators were told and the practices they approved?
Did the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program develop sufficient leads to connect the dots to Osama bin Laden ’s redoubt in Abbottabad, Pakistan, or serve to fulfill the executive and congressional mandate to prevent another 9/11? That is a fair operational and analytical question for the report by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democratic majority to raise and argue. Likewise, it can and should be debated whether America should ever again use such methods to prevent terrorist attacks. What is decidedly unfair is to belatedly attack the brave and dedicated men and women and their leaders at the CIA who had the nation’s highest political and legal authorizations for this program.
Mr. Freeh, a former FBI director and federal judge, is a partner and chairman emeritus with the law firm Pepper Hamilton and chairman of Freeh Group International Solutions.