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Conservatives Upset By Release Of Memos

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Conservatives Upset By Release Of Memos

Conservatives Upset By Release Of Memos

Conservatives Upset By Release Of Memos

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Some conservatives are calling the release of the Justice Department memos a breach of national security and a threat to future U.S. covert operations.


Joining us now is NPR News analyst Juan Williams from member station WLRN in Miami. Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: We just heard some of the criticism and the anger over the president's decision to release those memos - doesn't sound like this debate is going away any time soon.

WILLIAMS: No, in fact it's intensified. Former Vice President Dick Cheney ratcheted up the debate Monday night. He told the conservative talk show host Sean Hannity that he has formally requested the release of additional classified documents. The vice president says they will show that the use of these enhanced interrogation techniques - the waterboarding, the confinement, the slamming detainees into walls - he says they got critical information out of these terror suspects.

So Cheney's request comes after former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote that President Obama's decision to release these memos was helpful to terrorists by telling them the limits of U.S. interrogation techniques. So, this argument is getting hotter.

MONTAGNE: What about the president's argument that much of the information about these interrogation methods had already been widely publicized?

WILLIAMS: Well, that's right. And Renee, you know, there are public Red Cross accounts of interviews with the detainees about techniques that interrogators used against them. And don't forget that in a New York Review of Books piece, there was more information there. And also you can point to a 2006 speech by President Bush himself in which he talked about some of this.

But you have a sense - and former CIA Director Michael Hayden spoke about this, as you heard in Mary Louise's piece - that there's no benefit to the U.S. in confirming these reports. And Vice President Cheney's point is that those reports in the memos contain only the detainee's side of the story, because they don't reveal what further terrorist acts were prevented by getting this information at that point, at arguably a critical point.

The vice president says if the nation is going to debate the use of what most have called torture, then he says let's make it an honest debate and get the whole thing on the table.

MONTAGNE: So, why is this really an argument over the information being out there or an argument over the Obama administration's attitude towards that information?

WILLIAMS: Good point, Renee. You know, I think it's attitude. President Obama campaigned against the use of torture on detainees, and on his first day in office he banned these enhanced interrogation techniques that were permitted by the memos. He campaigned with a promise to close Guantanamo Bay, and he said it will be closed.

So, his attitude is that the U.S. does not need permissions given in the torture memos or Guantanamo Bay to maintain the nation's safety. Now, the Bush administration people - and I heard this in an interview yesterday - they're saying to me things like, well, President Obama must think that there is no longer a terror threat or that the Bush administration lied about the importance of these enhanced interrogations. So, it is about attitude.

MONTAGNE: You know, Juan, when you hear the arguments that the president's critics are making - and there are many from the Bush administration - how much of this is about extreme techniques preventing another 9/11, as many critics have claimed, and how much is a sense of obligation to defend the policies of the previous administration?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's interesting if you listen to people in the intelligence community, they say there are other techniques that can be used to gain this information. So, I think it's a lot of political and attitudinal stuff that we've been talking about this morning, Renee. I mean, a recent poll found that two-thirds of Americans favor investigations into these torture allegations. In fact, 40 percent of Americans in this poll said that they would look favorably on criminal investigations.

So, this is a thing that you're looking at where President Obama could have fought disclosure of the memos in courts for years under national security claims. But at the moment, this is a crossfire between the Bush administration that says we prevented further terrorist attacks, and the Obama administration who says we have a better way to go about it.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR News analyst Juan Williams.

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