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. GG

    Hayden should be happy he is not being prosecuted by the Justice Administration for his role in authorizing torture something that civilized nations should never commit. Mr. Hayden you had your turn to be in the spot light for years, it’s time Mr. Obama to clean the mess Bush has created. Also you should be ashamed for wearing the proud uniform of the United States Armed forces and yet break the laws of the United States.

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

    So the occupation of a country and the collateral deaths of tens of thousands of its citizens is not a recruitment tool?

    April 19, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  3. outraged

    Yes, this truly has me angry. But I'm so glad to find my senator disagreeing with this whole line of argument.
    She truly fights the good fight.

    April 19, 2009 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  4. Sean Chong

    "Biased April 19th, 2009 1:55 pm ET
    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."

    Biased, the whole idea of a Tea party is a waste of resources. If these people would have sat down at home, to come up with more brilliant idea that would fascinate Americans like myself, I'd have listened to them, and I'd have given them some air time to broadcast their idea. The ill-informed (mainly Republican) crowds at the tea party (and glad to know none of them drink tea) clearly didn't understand that they should be doing this back in 2003 and continue till today. Back then, GOP held both the Senate and House, and we had a GOP president.... who apparently overspent during the good times. Didn't your old folks (who are mostly conservatives) tell you to save money during the good times so that you can use your money to tie through the bad ones? That's why we have these idiots on the street protesting for don't know what reason and create so much wastes (tea bags)....

    April 19, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  5. Da Professor

    Way to go Michael!!!!

    "Michael Hayden, who served as former President Bush's last CIA director" thinks that releasing the truth about Bush – Cheney – CIA is a terrible thing to do. Yea right Michael; lets bury all the UnAmerican screw ups under a rock somewhere. By all means Michael, lets enable the saving of "face" for the worst President and Vice-President
    America may have ever known.

    April 19, 2009 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  6. Mac

    After destroying America,these idiots to go their ONLY country club – otherwise known as Fox News and talk about the Good Ol' days of torturing people. What a joke!

    April 19, 2009 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  7. the rector

    "War is all hell." That's how General Sherman saw it, so he proceeded to burn everything in his wake to the ground, killing livestock and poisoning wells to crush the heart of the rebellion as soon as possible. He was a hero to the north and a villain to the south so time will tell how these men are judged, but that will be their only judge. People inside the system are immune to its laws and penalties.

    April 19, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  8. JonDie

    Hayden should be sent to the Hague to stand trial for war crimes. He's lucky Obama isn't vicious, ideological partisan like Hayden.

    April 19, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  9. Rachell

    If you don't like your memos being released, perhaps you shouldn't torture people in your custody? Just a thought. Also, you torture supporters need to understand something: Just because the goverment labels you a "terrorist" does not make it so. Why do you think so many detainees were released from Gauntanamo in the first place? The US goverment realized they were holding innocent people by MISTAKE and had to let them go. Also, I think it's pretty sad that the US has to compromise its moral authority simple because those on the right piss their pants everytime they see someone in a turban. Torture is never right, period. If you want to use it, then use it, but at least aknowledge that you are on the same level as the Soviet Union, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.

    April 19, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  10. DAVE

    The tactics used are nothing compared to what any off us would do to save the life of our families. Torture?
    Anything at any cost to hammer the Bush administration.
    These arnt honerable soilders or inocent civilians.
    There heartless excuses's for humans.
    We deprive them of sleep and they cut of our heads.
    Given the chance they would kill us all.
    Your high morals sure would change if it was your kids life on the line
    support your localTerrorist before your fellow americans
    You make me sick

    April 19, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  11. Dee, NJ

    Mr. Hayden 7 yr's, No Wins! Cheney and you was in control.

    April 19, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  12. Rod

    Americans need to clean up their own backyard rather than spending billions of dollars trying to prevent a very small potential threat. if you live in any given place in america and one day a law abiden citizen with no history of violence decided to go break his gun cabinet open, grab his 9mm, walk down to the local school and surprise! as a resident of that place i'd be least concern about what the heck is goin on over in irag. as far as your right to bear arms, so was the right to segregation and so many other racial divides that had to be liberated. just picture the country if those rights wern't lifted. don't forget slavery folks. as far as guns its time to move on. law enforcements can't fight crime if one has a aka-47 waiting for the officer whose about to arrest him. anyone can snap as perfect as we think we are.

    April 19, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  13. Dave NYC

    These are legal memos concerning the interpretation of our Constitution and fundamental laws. As such, We the People may have access to them.

    Come on people, this is civics 101, this is one of the founding values of our Nation, be proud we have the courage to be open and honest with our citizens!

    April 19, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  14. SRB

    I thought the Bust Administration said " we don't touture" So I guess we broke every rule we fought hard to achieve. Thanks again Bush and Cheney for taking the large step back in public opinion. And congrats to Obama and his team tosave face in the worlds eye.

    April 19, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  15. Sonia Kermaz

    Torture is not a tactic it's a thrill! Like rape, it's an act of sadistic brutality through which no peace has ever been won or truth spoken. Men like Gates torture because they like it.

    April 19, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  16. Sonia Kermaz

    Oops, I meant Hayden and Cheney.

    April 19, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  17. ruth

    My parents always taught me to tell the truth. Have I missed something or is it OK to lie now? Thank God we have a honest man in the White House now. Mr Hayden, you need to get some ethics.

    April 19, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  18. James Baker, Las Vegas, Nevada

    As a former Director of Intelligence for HQ 13th Air Force, I am shocked at General Hayden's comments. Most informed intelligence officers will tell you that torture does not elicit reliable information. There may be exceptions to that generalization, but so what? Is that who we are or want to be? A nation that embraces torture if it is effective? It was sometimes effective to throw one VC prisoner out of a helicopter in Vietnam in order to get the other prisoners on board to talk, but it was also a war crime and repugnant to who we are as a nation. General Hayden ignored the Constitution when he was in charge of NSA and oversaw wireless warrant taps on U.S. citizens. His opinions are less than credible, newsworthy only for the lack of integrity they display.

    April 19, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  19. Sharon-NY

    I really, really don't undersand what, why and for whom Obama released the torture memo.

    April 19, 2009 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  20. Steve

    I really don't think Obama knows what he is actually doing other than trying to personally gain something. It is obvious that he has no military experience, or is it that he is being misled by his people? The Bush administration did nothing more than any other administration if truth were to be told. In years to come we will probably hear all the untold stories about Obamas antics and you all will be posting items in here bashing him. Let the military do there job and all of you go hug your loved ones and stop the bashing. Many people in this world are unable to do that because they were executed by the real dictators outside the US.

    April 19, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  21. Bret

    Where were his comments when Bush started the war in Iraq? We have not had our military forces this expended since Vietnam. If a true enemy were to confront us, America would be at odds to engage them.

    Is this not a true compromise to national security?

    April 19, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  22. President Obama could walk on water and the Party of NO would still complain that he left footprints!

    Yes I suppose he does, since it may uncover the rampant degree that neo-cons walked on the Constitution of America.

    It is called "checks and balance", Sir, your party got way out of balance, and now President Obama is responsible for writing the checks to get us out of the neo-con mess both nationally and internationally.

    April 19, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  23. LC in CA

    Well, yeah. Once the closet door is open and the dirty laundry hits the air, then all the rats who were hiding in the darkness are going to squeal. No surprise here, is there? Yet another conservative has-been slamming Obama. Yawn.

    April 19, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  24. Dr Bob Hacker

    Knowledge of crime, especially when one is an attorney and thus a member of the 'court', without suitable follow up action makes you.....A CRIMINAL also. This is the English common law we are alleged to be using. Since President Obama is alleged to be a (Harvard) attorney, one would think the clear evidence of a crime would provoke some LEGAL action, for a change!

    April 19, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  25. Tariq

    Michael Hayden probably authorized some of the torture techniques. I am not surprised his concern about the release of the memos implicating him.

    So, Hayden....all I hear from you is "Please don't prosecute me!"

    April 19, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
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