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Three Excedrin Later, I Still Can’t Understand Mike Hayden’s Argument Against Releasing Torture Memos

The Obama administration is apparently going to release the 2005-era Office of Legal Counsel memoranda about what torture techniques the CIA could employ. Keep hitting refresh here. MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell had former CIA Director Mike Hayden on to make the case against disclosure of the memos, and for the life of me, I can’t see how this argument isn’t indicative of a certain outdated mode of thinking. Hayden:

The president, when he issued his executive order tying all American agencies to the Army field manual, also launched a six-month study to determine whether or not the field manual, the Army field manual and the 19 techniques contained therein, are sufficient in all cases facing the Republic. We’re in the midst of that study. To make these techniques public — and Andrea, I must admit, I’ve not seen the redacted version, so I don’t know the final decision — but to the degree to which we make these techniques public, to tell our enemies the outer limits of American interrogation techniques, it moots the study that the president directed, because it effectively takes these techniques off the table.

Well, yes, exactly. The only way this would be problematic is if you believe the Obama administration issued the executive order banning torture as a public cover while it secretly let the CIA return to Bush administration-era practices. Even then, it’s not totally problematic, because we know from numerous public disclosures in the press that the CIA has, for instance, waterboarded people. In that nefarious circumstance, at least Hayden’s point would have some merit, because the administration could always withhold official recognition about what techniques the CIA employed in interrogations. It would be a lie. But still.

But in fact, officials all down the line — from President Obama to Attorney General Holder to CIA Director Panetta — have expressly forsworn torture. They embraced the Army field manual, which is not legally problematic from a Geneva Conventions-compliance perspective, precisely for that reason. There are important vagaries, because the field manual can’t envision every conceivable case, and that’s what the review is going to address. And since I see that the president has put out a statement in the time it’s taken me to write this post, I’ll just quote Obama:

First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program – and some of the practices – associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.

Radical concept.

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