What Do Torture Memos Mean For CIA Field Work?

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a former CIA operative. He talks with Renee Montagne about what the release of the so-called torture memos by the Obama administration means for agency field work. Gerecht says the agency will have to be concerned about officers invovled in future interrogations.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Those torture memos and the congressional report released earlier this week have also highlighted divisions within the U.S. intelligence community. To find out one view of how this could affect the CIA, we turn now to a former operative. Reuel Marc Gerecht was Middle East specialist for the agency, and he joins us on the line from Prague. Hello. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. REUEL MARC GERECHT (Former Middle East Specialist, CIA; Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies): My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: You've been in the field. How does the release of this information affect that work?

Mr. GERECHT: Well, I think it's a bit hard to tell for now. I mean, where you're going to have to be concerned is with those officers involved in any future interrogations of senior al-Qaida representatives. And if those individuals prove reluctant to speak to us, then we're going to have to see whether interrogations conducted by the Marquess of Queensbury rules, those gentlemanly rules of boxing - no hitting below the belt - have any affect.

MONTAGNE: Although, are they really, in fact, those rules? Are there not options under current circumstances for harsher techniques?

Mr. GERECHT: Not much. I mean, it's certainly not clear whether the Geneva Conventions apply to members of al-Qaida. If it is the Obama administration's position that the Geneva Conventions do apply to al-Qaida, then there's not much that one can do in interrogation. I mean, you can try to be nice. You can sort of wear people down just by constant questioning. But I suspect for devout, holy warriors, that won't work.

I mean, one of the things that obviously needs to be done now is for someone to have a serious review of the 6,000 intelligence reports that were supposedly produced from members of al-Qaida - 3,000, it appears from the memos, that came from individuals of, quote, high value; that is, they probably received some form of aggressive interrogation. And then we can have an assessment of whether those techniques applied, in fact, were productive.

MONTAGNE: Has, in your view, the administration's decision made CIA agents and other intelligence agents afraid that they might be prosecuted?

Mr. GERECHT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there's no doubt that the clandestine service is out of the business of aggressive interrogation. And even if there were another 9/11, I'm not sure that they would follow a presidential order to get re-involved. They certainly don't want to be prosecuted, either at home or abroad.

And the agencies are fairly anxious, nervous, cover-your-tush type of organization to begin with. And this certainly adds jet fuel to that inclination.

MONTAGNE: Even though the president has said that those in the intelligence community who acted in good faith should not be prosecuted.

Mr. GERECHT: Well, that's fine and dandy, but I think it's a bit illogical. I mean, if what the president is suggesting is that the Bush administration gave some torture, if you believe that, I mean, that's a fairly serious charge. That's crime. So I don't think you get to stop that and suddenly say that, all right, no one's going to really be held responsible here.

It sort of makes the United States a bit morally into a banana republic. If there is a political consensus that this was wrong - and I'm not sure that there is a consensus, by the way. And that, I would say, it was a huge mistake of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, that they should have had Congress clearly say openly that they are in favor of these aggressive methods. I think they did say that privately, but they should've said it publicly. It should've been on the record. That didn't happen, and I think we've seen the result of that.

MONTAGNE: Reuel Marc Gerecht is a former CIA operative, currently a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He joined us on the line from Prague. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. GERECHT: My pleasure.

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