April 19th, 2009
12:31 PM ET
5 years ago

Former Bush CIA director slams Obama for torture memo release

Hayden is the former CIA director.
Hayden is the former CIA director.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A former head of the CIA slammed President Obama on Sunday for releasing four Bush-era memos, saying the new president has compromised national security.

Michael Hayden, who served as former President Bush's last CIA director from 2006 to 2009, said releasing the memos outlining terror interrogation methods emboldened terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.

"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."

But Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said certain techniques should not have been allowed in the first place. McCaskill called them "a great recruitment tool for those who want to do harm to our country."

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel dismissed Hayden's assertion that releasing the memos had undermined U.S. intelligence efforts by giving al-Qaeda critical new information.

"One of the reasons the president was willing to let this information out was that already the information was out," he said on ABC's "This Week."

"Go get the New York Review of Books. It's there."

Hayden said he called several senior White House officials to express his opposition before the president released the documents. Hayden also noted that four previous CIA directors, as well as current agency director Leon Panetta, opposed the release.

The memos said, among other things, that interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and slapping did not violate laws against torture absent the intent to cause severe pain.

Obama prohibited the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding shortly after taking office in January.

Such techniques "undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer," he said Thursday when the White House released the memos.

As a result of the administration's decision, Hayden argued, CIA officials will be less willing in the future to engage in interrogation tactics now sanctioned by the federal government.

"The basic foundation of the legitimacy of the agency's action has shifted from some durability of law to a product of the American political process. That puts agency officers in a horrible position," he said.

"The really dangerous effect of this (decision) is that you'll have agency officers stepping back from the kinds of things that the nation expects them to do. ... You're going to have this agency - on the front line of defending you in this current war - playing back from the line."

Hayden also said - contrary to the assertions of many critic - that the interrogation techniques in question had forced suspected terrorists to reveal valuable information and made the country safer.

He predicted that the release of the memos would be "just the beginning ... There will be more revelations, more commissions, there will be more investigations."

McCaskill, also appearing on "Fox News Sunday," countered that the United States will be better off in the long run by clearly prohibiting interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. And Graham said that while he was concerned that the release of the memos was a "huge tactical and strategic mistake done for political reasons," the decision to allow certain enhanced interrogation techniques was a mistake to begin with.

Graham added that he always thought waterboarding "was a procedure that would come back to haunt the country, and quite frankly it has."


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (132 Responses)
  1. Arthur Hansen

    So it's wrong because it shows that the CIA does wrong things? I call covering hind end BS on this. They are only upset that they are getting caught doing wrong.

    April 19, 2009 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  2. republicans hate america

    no one is above the law!!

    April 19, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  3. Peter E

    Americans are falsely led to believe by the media and Hollywood that torture is the only interrogation method that works. In fact, as revealed by Matthew Alexander, a former Gunatanamo Bay interrogator himself, torture is the least effective, least reliable interrogation method. Torture is a waste of time when other, more civil interrogation methods are available that are more reliable, yield results more quickly, and hence would make our country more safe.

    April 19, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  4. Dexter Skagway

    It's a good thing this torture-loving general is out of power.

    No national security was compromised, because all the methods were pretty much known, and they are all methods we no longer use.

    When it comes to torture, concentration camps, rendition, and spying on other Americans, America has returned to the ideal of "Americans don't do that." Some people like Hayden and Cheney don't like that, but what does that say about them?

    April 19, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  5. Tim

    I love the tired old straw-man argument that what we do is a a great recruitment tool for those who want to do harm to our country.

    Bogus. Anyone who believes it is a fool.

    April 19, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  6. mary smithy

    ...and Obama's administration is for partial birth abortion.
    What is up with this dude-the most innocent get tortured/put to death while the criminals of USA get lobster and steak???
    Obama-some day you will meet your Maker and you WILL be judged!!!

    April 19, 2009 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  7. neil

    Obama has to remember these guys still want us removed from the face of the earth by what ever means possible.

    April 19, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  8. Tom in Delaware

    Unfortunately the moronic administration left blacked out the information that the terrorists revealed from their 'torture', so that no argument could be made that these techniques revealed vital information to the security and saftey of the American people....how convenient.

    Bad move by Obama again.

    Somebody ought to put a catapiller on his shoulder.

    April 19, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  9. Biased

    CNN is very biased, not necessarily in this report, but look at their coverage of the Tea Party. The reporter thinks Fox is fascist and is feeding Republicans so called "anti-government". Why can't Democrats and Republicans come together peacefully and make a news station that isn't biased one way or the other. That goes for Fox, CNN, and all of the other ones out there.

    April 19, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  10. bill b. from Stratford,Ct

    The whole Bush Admin. should all be in prison. Just look at all the things they have done to this world. Thousands dead, trillions of dollars spend, economy a wreck, 5.1 million people job lost b/c of their policies, the U.S. hated all over the world b/c of their hateful ways against people, HURRICANE KATRINA, HURRICANE KATRINA, need I say more.

    April 19, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  11. Lynda/Minnesota

    Ah, Mr. Hayden, here is a new flash for you. The world and presumably all that live in it already knew that the United States applied "torture". As far as "more" investigations, yes indeed, I should hope there will be more. This isn't a tatic our country should be "proud" of and tout as acceptable. And as far as "expecting" the CIA to torture on my behalf, really sir, aren't you being a bit presumptous? Indeed, if all of the torture that occurred was so productive, why hasn't Bin Laden been brought to justice yet?

    April 19, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  12. The Guy Next Door

    The DEMS hate America more than ever as evidenced by their recent misleading, uninformed, and hateful comments.

    These people can't see beyond the points of their noses. They just can't grasp the seriousness of the release of this type of information and the impact such information can have.

    It's Terrorists we are fighting. The same Terrorists who killed 3000 Americans and beheaded more. The scary aspect of all this is that BHO believes as the Far-Left does and will sell our country inch by inch down the road to destruction.

    While all this is going on, you idiots will be dancing in the street until the Terrorists behead you and your family.

    Waterboarding is not Torture.

    April 19, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  13. MK

    President Obama plainly stated months ago the US does not torture (anymore). We will no longer carry out the practices of the former president therefore we can release the documents proving Bush, and all those who without questioning, did torture. I personally am angry that there will no prosecution of these war criminals. I would love to see them all rot in prison.

    April 19, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  14. anonimus

    Are people not aware that if you torture someone long enough they will tell you anything you want to hear and believe it too!

    April 19, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  15. Dace Tucson AZ

    This torture loving sadist belongs in prison with Bush, Cheney and most of the Bush administration for war crimes. We executed Japanese and Germans that did the exact same things in WW II. And torture doesn't work – but these sadists get a thrill from torturing, the only time Cheney smiles and his eyes light up are talking about torture – IT IS A SICKNESS!

    April 19, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  16. Jack in Florida

    It had nothing to do with emboldening Al Qaida..............it has to do with crimes against humanity..............the whole lot of them should be in the Hague being tried for these crimes..........they are all criminals and if the world does not judge them, we know that God will.....their
    day will come.

    April 19, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  17. Jane

    I completely agree with Peter E., Bush and Cheney should be tried for war crimes in the World Court;. they have destroyed the reputation of and any faith in this country.

    April 19, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  18. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    If "enhanced interrogation techniques" (a/k/a "torture") are so effective, giv e us some specific examples of how information obtained by these methods helped prevent attacks or otherwise defeat our enemies. If disclosure of specifics would compromise our security, how about some generalized stories? I doubt there are any, because experts agree that torture doesn't work.

    April 19, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  19. Larry from RI

    Does this guy look and sound as scared as dick Cheney does these days? They both seem to be defending themselves a bit early which indicates fear.

    What's the matter Mr. Hayden, Don't like your dirty deeds being looked at under the light of day? You have dishonored longstanding American principles which abhor the torture of human beings and animals, have disregarded civil liberties over security, are a disgrace to your uniform and have proven yourself to be better than our enemies.

    All our troops are in greater danger of being tortured when captured because of you, what moral high ground can we now claim when this happens?

    April 19, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  20. ashly

    Ok before a lieu of comments about waterboarding... Has anyone every BEEN waterboarded? Has anyone experienced a fraction of a second worth of HORRIBLE psychological trauma associated with thoughts of drowning and blood rush and pain? It is HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE; if anyone ever did that to me again for minutes, perhaps hours on end – even as a simple experience – I would tell them anything they wanted to hear. Torture does not work.

    April 19, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  21. GOP double standard

    Where was this guy when the Bush Administration outed a CIA agent so they could sell the Iraq Invasion to the country? I guess he still thinks most people in the world don't think the US tortured people. Whoops the only ones who still think that are the Bush Neo-cons and a few remaining cult followers. With the release of the memos the Bush Admin and supporters can no longer claim that the US does not torture. The cat is truly out of the bag. Now all they have left to is to blame it on Obama. Typical song and dance by the GOP. Just another wonder part of the legacy of incompetence tduring the Bush Administration.

    April 19, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  22. Majik

    The Bush administration was bad but Obama is proving that he is going to be worse.

    April 19, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  23. Nick - Arlington, VA

    Somehow the last administration has gotten away with arguing that the only way to protect the country is by violating federal and international laws against torture. It is truly despicable that those who were supposed to defend the Rule of Law and the Principles of the Constitution were violating both, and, even worse, some Americans think it was patriotic.

    April 19, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  24. Exceptions To Principles Mean You HAVE NO PRINCIPLES

    Actions MUST have consequences otherwise PEOPLE will break the rules that keep society functioning.

    The (now) FEDERAL judge that authored these EXCUSE memos should be impeached and removed from office. He was full of himself to think that we'd actual buy his load of crap.

    If, at this point, these people don't have enough common decency to be ASHAMED for what they've done, they should be prosecuted.

    April 19, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  25. w

    I'm not feeling safe in my own country if "The Guy Next Door" thinks waterboarding is not torture.

    April 19, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
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