Several commentators, includingJoe Klein (to cite a Lefty) are noting that the release of the "torture memos" is problematic: "There are real concerns in the intelligence community--and a potential rebellion in the clandestine service." Letting our enemies know what we will do to them when we catch them could prepare them to resist more effectively.
On the other hand, the President is probably correct that the memo had to be released, if only because of world opinion, and the opinion of America’s elite class too, I suppose. All kinds of rumors have spread all over the world about what, exactly, the US was doing. Judging by what I have seen so far, the memo suggests that the Bush Administration hardly wend medieval on our enemies. A sample:
The Bybee memorandum, which was written on August 1, 2002, described the CIA’s plans for using insects this way:
“You [the CIA] would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us [the Department of Justice] that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box. You have orally informed us that you would in fact place a harmless insect such as a caterpillar in the box with him.”
If that’s an illegal interrogation technique, there’s a problem with the law, not the technique.
If the techniques were, as a rule, closer to that than not, and if only three people were waterboarded, and if such methods were only used on people who were carefully selected, as seems to have been the case (for the most part), it suggests that by releasing the memo, President Obama has shown that the Left was rather misguided in its understanding of things. It was the mistrust of Bush, combined with the (not unreasonable) concern with secrecy, that snowballed into a conspiracy theory. There is a trade-off between security and public information. Legitimate concerns about security might have led the Bush administration to go too far. No doubt, as one report notes, there are concerns about "a potential rebellion in the clandestine service" over this. On the other hand, the CIA, like any other bureaucratic organization needs to be reminded who is boss sometimes. The trouble is that the CIA has a history of taking its pound of flesh from Presidents who do things it doesn’t like.
Update. Here’s a bit more info:
Prisoners could be kept shackled in a standing position for as many as 180 hours. The documents also noted that more than a dozen CIA prisoners had been deprived of sleep for at least 48 hours, three for more than 96 and one for the nearly eight-day maximum allowed. Another document seemed to endorse sleep deprivation for 11 days.
In some cases, the memos address specific interrogation plans. When the CIA proposed putting an Al Qaeda suspect in a small box with an insect, the Justice Department endorsed the idea but added conditions it said were necessary to keep the agency from violating the international convention against torture.
"If you do so . . . you must inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain," said a 2002 memo sent to the CIA’s acting general counsel. A footnote clarified that the CIA never carried out the insect interrogation plan.
Anyone else surprised by just how lawyered up this stuff seems to have been? (There’s a reason why the old "Mission Impossible" began with tapes concluding, "should you or any of your team be apprehended, the secretary and I will deny any knowledge of its existence." That reflected an understanding, which used to be more common, that certain acts by govermment must be off the books) There also seem to have been relatively few involved.