As we talked, Olson ticked off what might lie ahead. If there is a 9/11-style commission, prospective members will have to be found, appointed, vetted, cleared of conflicts of interest, given security clearances — and that’s just for the eminences on the panel. Full-time staff will have to be recruited, and they will go through the same sort of scouring. Then commission will have to find office space and a SCIF. (For those unfamiliar with Washington security culture, that’s a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility — a totally sealed room for the handling of the most highly classified information.) There will be hearings, and subpoenas, and witnesses, and draft reports and final reports.
“And then,” Olson added, “if they do that, many people are going to say you can’t stop with John Yoo or Alberto Gonzales. You’re going to have to investigate every member of Congress who was briefed on this, what their notes were, what records they kept, who they talked to. You’re going to have to investigate leaks that implicate the press, who told what to whom. There’s no foreseeable limit to how far they’re going to have to go.”
And that’s before we get to potential prosecutions, separate investigations by various congressional committees, lawsuits in civil courts, bar association probes, and possible legal tribunals around the world.
And then — well, why stop at the memos? “If it’s prosecutable because we waterboarded somebody or deprived him of sleep, what about sending a drone to blow him up without a trial or a hearing?” Olson asked. “What if the person we blew up was carrying a three-year old child? We know things like that have happened. We know innocent people have been killed. We know this administration has done it. Are they going to be prosecuted for that?”
And finally, when everyone is finished investigating, what’s to stop the next president from holding Obama administration officials “accountable” for some “controversial” action?
Read the whole thing. York does not ask Olson to speculate on the impact to national security of this carnival, but it is beginning with the dismantling of interrogation routines and it will end with a dispirited, defensive counterterrorism community. Given that D.C. is itself the number one target of every jihadist with an imagination, the president’s flip flop is not only an attempt to ruin the lives of a handful of political opponents, it is also an announcement to jihadists everywhere that Washington has unilaterally reduced the threat level under which it operates.
UPDATE: The New York Times and The Politico are both reporting a sudden caution on the part of President Obama on the witch hunt front, and another reversal may be imminent. Just because everyone not on the hard left is appalled by the idea doesn’t guarantee that it still won’t happen. The president still seems a wholly-owned subsidiary of MoveOn.org, and the demand for vengeance against any Bushie they can get in their sights is intense. But if there are any national security pros with access to the president, they must be urging him to go back to his first course of refusing to attempt to impose retribution. The awful decision to release the interrogation memos hurt the country, but doubling down via some demented victory-dance-show-trial for the gratification of the MSNBC audience would be irresponsible beyond measure.
Not that such arguments matter much. From today’s Washington Post story on the release of the interrogation memos:
Five CIA directors — including Leon E. Panetta and his four immediate predecessors — and Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser had expressed firm opposition to the release of interrogation details in four “top secret” memos in which Bush administration lawyers sanctioned harsh tactics.
The article also states that Team Obama is worried about Dick Cheney’s attempt to “box Obama in” on issues of national security. What the former Vice President has done is speak calmly and clearly about the fact that the jihadist threat is real and continuing, and that the Obama Administration is acting as though it is decreased significantly or is over. The announcement about closing Gitmo, the release of the memos, the launch of the witch hunt –this is the legacy of President Obama’s first one hundred days. The stimulus package that isn’t was just a waste of an enormous amount of money. The damage done to the country’s defenses against terror is profound and lasting.