April 19th, 2009
12:31 PM ET
6 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. Maggie

    Wonder what other secrets he will reveal befoer he is out of office, We are in a great time of trying to defend our country after he opens all the pandora boxes. Has he not shame of regard for the American people he promised to take care of and protect? He must have has his fingers crossed behind his abck when he was under oath.

    April 19, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  2. TORK242

    Hayden and fools like him were lead by an idiot George Bush and we wondered how the Country got so messed up.

    April 19, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  3. Curled up in a ball

    The Geneva Convention is crystal clear about torture. We should have trials, so Bush has a chance to clear his name.

    April 19, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  4. RoseAnne

    How does waterboarding put us at the same level as Al Queda? You people do realize that they have sawed off Americans' heads and flew airplanes into buildings, causing people to burn to death, don't you? Call me ridiculous, but I don't think a little water, (while a doctor is standing right there) consitutes as torture. How exactly are we supposed to get any life-saving info out of these people? Liberals, what are your solutions?

    April 19, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  5. Ellen

    First of all, we all know that CIA operatives were using those techniques long before some memo said they were legal, and will continue to use them long after the memo is withdrawn... Second, why do these idiots continue to defend tactics that DID NOT WORK!!!! 9/11 did not happen because we hadn't tortured enough information out of terrorists; it happened because we failed to process available intelligence data in a timely fashion, data that was readily available without the use of torture. Get real – this guy sounds like he's applying for a job w/ some right-wing think tank...

    April 19, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  6. Michigan

    Hey Guy, water boarding IS torture, and guess what, those big bad terrorists already knew exactly how we treated our political prisoners, innocent or not. ILLEGALLY! If we want to be a civil society and not a bunch of armed barbarians, we must abide by laws and the Constitution. Bush did neither, and that is why he will be prosecuted eventually. No one in this country is above the law, and Bush did not, repeat, did not keep us safer by doing whatever he pleased.

    April 19, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  7. Mad Dog

    Why isn't this guy in jail?

    He needs to keep his trap shut and go away to the GOP fairyland

    April 19, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  8. Lynda/Minnesota

    @Tom in Delaware:

    The report didn't leave anything out. If you were to download and read all of it, you would know that there are comments to the contrary of what you have just spoken of. One of the memos later addressed this and that memo has stated as fact that the information obtained did NOT lead to anything viable, nor was this individual as "high ranking" as was first originally thought.

    April 19, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  9. mike in ohio

    nothing on fox news is credible.
    interview ignored.

    April 19, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  10. Deb in Northglenn, Co

    To "The Guy Next Door": If waterboarding is not torture, will you volunteer to be waterboared?

    April 19, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  11. Andrew

    How absurd that the right wing uses the threat of terrorism to intimidate anyone who asks "should our country be doing this?"

    Isn't it the right of citizens to know what their country does in their name?

    We tried Bush's "trust us" approach to government. It was a failure.

    April 19, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  12. Michael A

    Estimated Number of American Citizen deaths from 2001 – 2005.

    Terrorism – 3000.
    Homicide – 96,000.
    Drunk Driving – 102,000.
    Suicide – 180,000.
    Cancer – 2,311,000.
    Smoking – 2,652,000.
    Heart Disease – 3,119,000.

    Guess which one we spend the most on?

    April 19, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  13. Benson Martin

    Especially since we did not invent these torture techniques, it is no secret they exist. Al-Quada operatives are trained to resist torture, so where is the secret. Nothing stops us from taking prisoners to countries where torture is legal, especially (ironically) the home countries of the people we detain.

    April 19, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  14. Michigan

    mary smithy April 19th, 2009 1:46 pm ET

    …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!!!

    Ah, back to the debunked abortion accusation again, huh? Mary, he did not vote for that bill because Illinois already had a law protecting the unborn. No one is FOR abortion. We just want to keep the government out of our lives (and I am a Democrat!) Someday Mary, anyone who killed or accepted the death of anyone will be judged. "thou shall m]not kill" applies to all of mankind, doesn't it?

    April 19, 2009 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  15. anonimus

    If water boarding is not torture, then drowning must surely be a pleasurable experience.

    April 19, 2009 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  16. Paul ~ nyc

    The Guy Next Door:

    Yes terrorists did kill 3000 americans. And what did the Bush clan do? Ignore the real culprit and go to war with an entirely different nation using 9/11 as its excuse.

    8 years later and the man who killed 3000 people in my home town is still out there. And for what? A war that cost us thousands of American lives, trillions of dollars, and our own self integrity.

    It was a war based in lies. If we are truly to be a beacon of honor, human decency, and freedom, then we need to practice what we preach. Torture is only sinking down to their barbaric level. And as someone else said, you torture someone long enough they will tell you anything you want to hear.

    Ever almost drown? Waterboarding is torture you can trust me on that.

    April 19, 2009 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  17. Dave in Albuquerque

    Over its history, the CIA's greatest weapon was when individuals in other countries decided that we were the good guys, and risked everything to help us. Under Bush that long-term weapon was thrown away in favor of the perceived short-term benefits of torture. As it turns out, we threw away far more than we gained. Torture proved ineffective (once again) as a policy of state, and all over the world people concluded that we were the bad guys. Even under a cold-blooded analysis that ignores the legal and moral issues involved in torture, the Bush approach to covert action was harmful to the U.S. Those who want the clandestine services to succeed, and aren't blinded by their own fantasies, will see the Obama approach as climbing out of an intelligence morass.

    April 19, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  18. Bud Burgoon-Clark

    Um, Mr. Hayden, those techniques CREATED a whole new generation of terrorists, thanks to the Busch-Reich (sic).

    April 19, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  19. Wes

    spoken like a true war criminal

    April 19, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  20. Had It

    I think there needs to be prosecution of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld and anyone else that CONDONED the torture.

    This is the USA – secrets of Bush-era nutjobs attempt to hide the evil done.

    April 19, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  21. Michigan

    What I expect them to do is follow the law, which means no torture. I'm sure they are smart enough to get information without slapping someone around naked, or depriving them of water, or almost killing them in their quest to get information. (And by the way, the Fox show "24" is made up!)

    April 19, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  22. Mario, mtl, ca.

    Don't you know that the report was already on the WEB.... long time ago.. are you idiot enough to believe that nobody's was not aware of it . Do you think the rest of the world is stupid..Please don't be fool

    April 19, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  23. chickenhawk down

    The era of Bush administration officials playing God with people's lives are over. They are now officially torturers and sadists and should be treated as such. The sooner they are sent to the Hague to answer for their crimes against humanity the better.

    April 19, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  24. 1fender

    Any Military officer who does not understand that negotiation of issues will work, is not taking advantage of the most powerful tools in their arsenal.

    Many nations have negotiated their differences and live in Peace, Look at Eqypt and Isreal,

    Hayden is lacking as a military officer. In his mind this is all a fight to the death. He subscribs to the "Bring It On" theory, the "you are either for us or against us"

    He can not conceive that there is another way besides torture. I hope they do continue the investigations and that public pressure will change the current administrations mind about presecuting these criminal thughs like Cheny and Hayden.

    A soldiers job is not to make war. Hayden is a disgrace to the uniform

    April 19, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  25. Geoff in BK

    We should remember that this is the same Michael Hayden who, as director of the National Security Agency, oversaw a massive, unconstitutional program that spied on Americans illegally. His moral credibility on these kind of questions is essentially nil as he clearly does not believe the government ought to be a government of laws. And to "The Guy Next Door" who thinks "Waterboarding is not Torture" – my God. It's easy to say that when it isn't happening to you or someone you care about. But unless you let one of your buddies waterboard you on Saturday night for fun, I think we can safely ignore your view. There is almost universal agreement (and this includes John McCain – an actual victim of torture) that waterboarding is torture and therefore completely unacceptable.

    April 19, 2009 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
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