Michael Hayden went on Fox News Sunday this week, fiercely objecting to the Obama administration’s release of Bush-era memos regarding “enhanced interrogation techniques.” He and three other former CIA directors objected to the release.
That common front might draw the memo release into doubt if it wasn’t a given that CIA directors are always going to defend the interests of the CIA.
Hayden trotted out the tired “war” on terror metaphor. This framing may be exciting to him and his colleagues, but it is strategic error to address terrorism this way, and the American public chose a presidential candidate last November who campaigned to emphasize hope over fear. Intoning about war did not help Hayden’s case.
The heart of his argument was that release of the memos would allow our enemies to train for “enhanced interrogation techniques” and that we would lose the benefits of those techniques. But a telling moment came when he shifted his argument:
There’s another point, too, that I have to make, and it’s just not the tactical effect of this technique or that. It’s the broader effect on CIA officers. I mean, if you’re a current CIA officer today - in fact, I know this has happened at the agency after the release of these documents - officers are saying, “The things I’m doing now - will this happen to me in five years because of the things I am doing now?”
Moving from tactical considerations to the “broader effect,” Hayden spoke of how the memo release would chill CIA activity. That’s not irrelevant, but it’s not the broader effect that matters: the strategic effect of using torture in counterterrorism activity. Like the myopic critic I wrote about in my post last week, Hayden is not focused on countering the strategic logic of terrorism, but on defending the interests of the agency he headed.
Chris Wallace showed a brief clip of White House press secretary Robert Gibbs criticizing “enhanced interrogation techniques” on a strategic level: “It is the use of those techniques … in the view of the world that [has] made us less safe.” Being a secretive torturer drives allies away from the United States.
Hayden didn’t get it, answering, “Most of the people who oppose these techniques want to be able to say, ‘I don’t want my nation doing this,’ which is a purely honorable position, ‘and they didn’t work anyway.’ That back half of the sentence isn’t true.”
Against the argument that the use of torture is strategic error, Hayden responded, “But it works!” Arguing its tactical utility does not meet the strategic case against torture.
And Hayden was well back on his heels when asked whether Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month.
Hayden is a fierce defender of the CIA. The CIA provides some elements of the nation’s security. But the CIA is not the nation’s security.