Politico omits Blair's reported statement that costs of techniques "far outweighed" the benefits

››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

The Politico reported that Dennis Blair stated that harsh interrogation techniques yielded "high-value information" but did not note Blair's reported statement that the costs of those techniques "far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us."

Politico reported in an April 22 article and blog post that Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair stated that harsh interrogation techniques yielded "high-value information" but did not note in either piece that, according to several articles, Blair issued a statement on April 21 that said, "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security." Moreover, the article -- by Josh Gerstein and Mike Allen -- and the blog post -- by Gerstein -- also did not note that, according to the blog of the U.S. Naval Institute, in the April 16 letter that was sent "to the Intelligence Community workforce," Blair made clear he opposes the use of such techniques.

In his April 16 letter, Blair wrote: "Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing. As the President has made clear, and as both CIA Director [Leon] Panetta and I have stated, we will not use those techniques in the future. I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given."

In his blog post, Gerstein also quoted ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer stating that a key issue is "whether the CIA could have obtained the same information and perhaps more through the use of lawful means." However, Gerstein did not note that Blair himself has reportedly said something similar. In an April 21 article, The New York Times reported that in his April 21 written statement, Blair said that "there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means" and that the harsh techniques "are not essential to our national security." From the Times:

"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means," Admiral Blair said in a written statement issued last night. "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

From Gerstein and Allen's article:

In the most recent instance, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair acknowledged in a memo to the intelligence community that Bush-era interrogation practices yielded had "high-value information," then omitted that admission from a public version of his assessment.

That leaves a top Obama administration official appearing to validate claims by former Vice President Dick Cheney that waterboarding and other techniques the White House regards as torture were effective in preventing terrorist attacks. And the press release created the impression the administration was trying to suppress this conclusion.

[...]

On the second matter, Obama as a candidate embraced the view that torture is both wrong and ineffective. But now that he has full access to the same top-secret documents cited by Cheney, the question cuts more sharply: Does he agree or disagree with Blair that coercive tactics produce valuable intelligence?

In a visit to the CIA Monday, he told intelligence personnel that, "What makes the United States special and what makes you special is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and ideals even when it's hard. So, you've got a harder job, and so do I and that's OK."

[...]

The two versions of the memo by Blair may reflect a more basic disagreement with President Barack Obama's decision to publish secret legal memos revealing the specifics of the coercive techniques, which the president banned on his second day in office. Some Obama officials worry that the release of the documents will make allied foreign intelligence services less likely to trust the U.S.'

"High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country," Blair wrote in the memo to the intelligence community on the same day the administration released memos detailing the techniques, which included waterboarding, slamming detainees into "flexible" walls, and prolonged sleep deprivation.

Even the press release that was released signaled some distance with Obama by cautioning against 20-20 hindsight prompted by reading the legal memos "on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009."

"[W]e will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos and those guidelines," Blair wrote in the public statement.

From Gerstein's April 22 blog post, "Obama intel chief: tough interrogations yielded "high-value info":

President Obama's Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, told colleagues in an internal memo last week that the aggressive interrogation tactics approved by the Bush administration yielded "high-value information" which helped the U.S. in the war on terror.

"High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country," Blair wrote in a memo to the intelligence community the same day Obama ordered the release of legal memos detailing the techniques, which included waterboarding, slamming detainees into "flexible" walls, and prolonged sleep deprivation.

Blair's assertion of the program's fruits was notable because while former President Bush, former Vice President Cheney and others have claimed that the program produced volumes of useful intelligence, Obama and other top aides have refused to acknowledge any benefits from the tough tactics. As recently as Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs demurred when asked about claims that the program helped break up terror plots.

[...]

Critics who have branded the tactics as "torture" said the issue of whether the program yielded some intelligence was largely beside the point.

"The issue is not whether the CIA obtained information, but whether it was reliable, whether it was lawful, and whether the CIA could have obtained the same information and perhaps more through the use of lawful means," said Jameel Jaffer, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who pressed the lawsuit which triggered release of the legal memos.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Interrogation
Network/Outlet
The Politico
Person
Mike Allen, Josh Gerstein
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