President Barack Obama, making his first trip to CIA headquarters April 20, acknowledged that agency officials had expressed what he called “understandable anxiety and concern” about his decision to release confidential memos detailing brutal interrogation techniques used by agency operatives. Obama said it was time to admit “mistakes” and “move forward.” Among other things, the memos revealed that two captured al-Qaeda operatives—Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—were subjected to waterboarding a total of 266 times.
Speaking at his visit to CIA headquarters, Obama went out of his way to praise intelligence officers, using words like “indispensable,” “courage” and “remarkable” and promising his “support and appreciation.”
“Don’t be discouraged by what’s happened in the last few weeks,” he told employees. “Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be president of the United States and that’s why you should be proud to be members of the CIA.” (NYT, April 21; The Caucus blog, April 20)
The day before Obama’s visit to the CIA, Michael Hayden, who served as President Bush’s last CIA director from 2006 to 2009, said releasing the memos emboldened terrorist groups. “What we have described for our enemies in the midst of a war are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an al Qaeda terrorist. That’s very valuable information,” Hayden said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “By taking [certain] techniques off the table, we have made it more difficult—in a whole host of circumstances I can imagine—for CIA officers to defend the nation.” (CNN, April 19)
See our last post on the torture scandal.