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Targeting the CIA

From the Scrapbook.

Mar 8, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 24
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Targeting the CIA

While most of Washington was focused on the White House “Health Care Summit” on February 25, something far more interesting was underway on Capitol Hill. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee showed up to work that day to find that a new provision—the “Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Interrogations Prohibitions Act”—had been inserted in the bill that funds U.S. intelligence activities for 2010.

The 11-page amendment may have sounded inoffensive. But three things gave the game away: the sponsor (Representative Jim McDermott, who accepted a prewar trip to Iraq financed by Saddam Hussein’s regime in order to rail against the United States); the method of inclusion (it was literally inserted overnight without one minute of debate in a “manager’s amendment” that is attached to the bill without a separate vote); and the plain language of the provision.

It seems that McDermott, and the congressional Democratic leaders who assented to sneaking it in, are not satisfied with President Barack Obama’s ban on enhanced interrogation techniques or the executive order he issued limiting interrogators to techniques in the Army Field Manual. There is very little good to say about Obama’s moral preening on interrogations. It’s clear from a variety of declassified materials released over the past year that the use of enhanced interrogations during the two Bush administrations prevented terrorist attacks and saved lives.

But at least Obama’s directive was transparent and signed in front of cameras with the whole world watching. And the president didn’t specify prison sentences for interrogators who may want to test the bounds of the Army Field Manual. The McDermott amendment, by contrast, was an underhanded attempt to criminalize all sorts of interrogation techniques that fall well short of torture. Congressional Democrats wanted to make it easier for prosecutors to target intelligence professionals. Period.

So they sought to ban “prolonged isolation.” What does that mean? Two hours? Ten? Twenty? Who knows?

And what about the ban on “depriving the individual of necessary food, water, sleep or medical care?” How much sleep is “necessary”? And “necessary” for what? If an intelligence professional is questioning a detainee and the prisoner says he’s tired, will the interrogation have to be suspended? Who decides?

Also banned: Placing hoods on detainees for any reason. But the use of hoods is sometimes crucial to the safe transportation of hard core terrorists.

The contemplated punishment for such supposed transgressions ranged from a stiff fine and jail time to a sentence of life in prison. Would any CIA director allow his personnel to interrogate detainees under these rules? Unlikely.

The bottom line: The same political party that has taken more than a year to establish an interrogation group to question high-value al Qaeda detainees is stepping up its efforts to target the men and women we pay to protect us from those terrorists.

After strong denunciations from Michigan’s Pete Hoekstra and other members, the amendment was pulled. The White House sought to distance itself from congressional Democrats. Tellingly, the White House objected not so much to the content of the McDermott amendment but to its
encroachment on prerogatives of the executive branch. Dick Cheney lives.

Stiffing the Falklands

The Scrapbook has a word of advice for our European friends: Be careful what you wish for. Case in point: Barack Obama. Since he was sworn into office last year, to worldwide acclaim, the 44th president of the United States has shown an astonishing predilection for cultivating our enemies (Iran, North Korea, Venezuela), appeasing the Putin regime in Russia, the People’s Republic of China, and the Assad kleptocracy in Syria, and throwing our friends and allies (Poland, the Czech Republic, Honduras, NATO, Israel, the G‑8, India, Germany, Italy, etc.) under the bus, or giving them the back of his hand—choose your metaphor.

The latest example is the State Department’s pronouncement that the United States is strictly neutral on the question of British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. “We are aware not only of the current situation,” says a Department spokesman, “but also of the history, but our position remains one of neutrality. The U.S. recognizes the de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party.”

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