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. rusty

    I would like to believe that America represents "the city with the lights shining on the hill". Ronald Reagan used that term. Torture should not be carried out by the good guys...that would be us...only certain, and swift, justice.

    April 19, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  2. chad in avery, ca.

    to "the guy next door"
    come on over to my house and ill pour water over your face 183 times in 30 days.
    when im done we can have a thoughtful discussion about torture.
    idiot

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

    The CIA renders themselves 'Untouchable.' .......Mr. President, and family, I am praying for you 24/7. Ps. 91 follow you continuously...IJN.

    April 19, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  4. Flo

    Ex-cia chief is against the president's release of torture memos.....hmm that shoulld tell you already what you need to know. I'm wondering if Hayden is afraid if Obama allowed prosecution of the cia maybe his name would be on the top of that list. I disagree, releasing these memos was the right thing to do if the president is serious about transparency. Hayden and others are not above the law and if should give anyone pause in the future. The world was well aware of techniques being used so releasing these memos did nothing but reinforce information that was already circulating. The NYT and Red Cross and others had already reported and Bush administration admitted to waterboarding and some other techniques used in the past.

    Now, the real question is will the Obama administration decide down the road to prosecute and that is what I think is behind the republican party for coming out strongly against this move (it put Bush legacy in jeopardy).

    April 19, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  5. Water board Coulter! We want the truth about that Adam's Apple!

    Haden worked for the shrub and has now joined the effort to rewrite history in an attempt to save his own butt and the shrub;s'

    In so doing however, Haden tosses out any credibility he may have had and has joined the growing heap of neo-cons that are irrelevant.

    April 19, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  6. Ann

    Mr. Obama was totally insane and irresponsible to do what he did. It showed his total lack of experience and disregard for the people in the field.

    April 19, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  7. proud army navy mom

    Hayden should have to endure all the torture he's so in favor of. As a matter of fact all the people including the enormous Bill Bennett should experience the torture strategies that they are so in favor of.

    Our sons and daughters in the military, heaven forbid if they were captured, would have to pay for what Bush/Cheney advocated. We would have no room to talk because we are no better for torturing. It is sickening to me how the repugs say they are patriotic, but constantly places our military in danger because of their hatred.

    April 19, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  8. Mike Dallas

    On "Fox News"?

    Since that is the public mouthpiece for the neo-cons as proven by all the partisan cheering for the "astro-turf" tea baggers there is nothing close to credible news coming from Murdock's empire.

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

    That's why he is a "former CIA" means he is X as in no longer needed at least by this Administration. Take a good look at the guy, can you say Dick Cheney? Same looks, same mentality!

    April 19, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  10. SC

    This guy smells a crook.

    April 19, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  11. Hayden is WRONG!

    It is not the release of the full contents of the torture legal opinion memos that has compromised national security, it is the actions of the CIA (e.g., the torturing, etc) that has compromised national security!

    The fact that our country, while headed by Bush and the Republicans, condoned and used torture in their "war on terror", helped *create* more terrorism. How can our country hope to claim a moral high ground when it supports torture? And how can we set an example for the other nations of the world if we accept torture?

    Some people will argue that torturing a few to prevent the harm of many is justified. However, there is no evidence - NONE - that torture has helped the U.S. in any way. Also, accepting the accidental torture of innocent people, or of people who do not have any useful information, just as a kind of "insurance" against possible threats is morally wrong, and devalues the lives of everyone.

    I am both angry and sad about how people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Hayden, Alberto Gonzales, John Roberts, etc, recklessly endangered our country - its security, economy, influence, and domestic culture - in pursuit of personal gain. I think it would be fair to consider prison terms for all of those people. How arrogant and insulting it is to the American people for Hayden to even suggest at this point that releasing evidence of past criminal CIA activity is somehow *hurting* our country.

    April 19, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  12. Ryan Mecum

    This is in response to the Guy Next Door. I believe you and your family should volunteer to be waterboarded. Just so you can truly testify that it is not torture.

    Those that condone torture are fools and cowards, willing to give up liberty for a false sense of security. May God forgive you and the other sheep.

    April 19, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  13. Steve, New York City

    I have an idea – next time the CIA needs to interrogate a suspect, maybe Hayden could use his head as a battering-ram.

    April 19, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  14. Achai Kamau

    To all of the moral cowards who believe that waterboarding isn't torture: Why don't you volunteer and find out?

    It is despicable that – in violation of both the United States Constitution and the Geneva Conventions – the Bush Administration authorized interrogation methods used by the Communist Chinese to extract information that is unlikely to be credible.

    Why some Republicans wish to sell out our values to "defend our values" is a mystery indeed. I'm not interested in being "safer" if it means that our nation turns to despotic methods. Let us not forget that the ends do not justify the means.

    April 19, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  15. european citizen

    you finally got a good leader.. And it's one with values.... impressive !!
    He is well educated, diplomatic, actually everything a leader has to be.
    He keeps 'God issues' seperated from Political decisions; that's something we already learned a long time ago in Europe.

    Obama probably knows that when you torture people you frequently have innocent people getting tortured, or people who are not engaged in terror but only know something.. it's all complicated I guess.
    Certainly if you realise that when you torture someone you are infecting your victim and his entourage with a PR virus.. it spreads the word that USA is the Devil and then they have kids etc. which gives you a nice pot of Terrorist breeding.

    Well done.

    April 19, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  16. Carmine Abbattiello

    Another go-along-to-get-along somehow in the news.

    April 19, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  17. Ken in NC

    The Obama Administration is making public what it has no intention of ever doing again regarding torture. Consider that that they have new ways of extracting information that we are not aware of. Remember that they deployed the Stealth F-117A back in 1981 but we never knew officially until 1988 that they even existed. When they admitted to the existence of the F-117A. When they acknowledged the F-117A in 1988 the new F-22 Raptor had been in production 2 years and delivered. They were ordered back in 1986, TWO YEARS BEFORE THE GOVERNMENT ACKNOWLEDGED THE F-117A, when the teams of Lockheed/Boeing/General Dynamics and Northrop/McDonnell Douglas were given the order for the F-22 Raptor.

    April 19, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  18. banderson

    This guy is just trying to cover his butt. I bet they broke all kinds of laws and now they are screaming holy bejesus because they don't want the American people to know that they have done things in the name of national security that are worse than what we have accused our enemies of doing. I think everyone in the world should know just have bad George Bush and Dick Cheney have made this country. They are all a bunch of criminals.

    April 19, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  19. Carl

    "..absent the intent to cause pain". In this instance I am ashamed of the administration. All of these people are war criminals. We have service members serving time for "crimes" at Abu Ghraib. And they were not allowed the "I was only following orders" defense. How many Germans were imprisoned and executed for being on the General Staff and just knowing about the concentrations camps. But the CIA people that actually did the torture are now exempt because they obviously didn't have the common sense to know were the line was. I guess it's now only torture when it's not direct members of the intelligence community; because there were many soldiers that stated the techniques they used were taught to them by person they believed to be CIA agents.

    April 19, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  20. D. Holiday

    Republicans...

    Here you go with your fear tactics again. You're losing. You know how we know. The article above basically explains the whole thing. The republicans are resorting to fear tactics. That's normal for someone who's losing.

    Propoganda and Fear-driven-BS to scare people into believing the non-sence you put forth, and Rush Limbaugh is the only thing you could come up with to try to bounce back.

    How Pathetic!

    April 19, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  21. doesnt make sense

    Ok so if an American who possibly ahtes any other country was tortured no one would say anything was wrong with that.

    April 19, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  22. Ruben

    I have seen some comments like waterboarding is not torture. I must say I am astonished to hearing that (The guy next door).Not only you are such a coward that can not even put down his name , but I am wondering since it is not torture , how many times you have been waterboarded... so if the answer is none , than how about let somebody try it on you, and report back to this blog.

    April 19, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  23. Ohio Girl

    Hahaha The Guy Next Door. Thanks for the laugh. Unless you're serious. In which case let's strap you upside down and pour water in your face until you're sure you're about to die and see if you think its torture then. You know who else was fond of waterboarding? The Gestapo.

    April 19, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  24. Ken in Albany

    If this administration states that the techniques used by the former administration WILL NOT be allowed then revealing THOSE PAST methods is not threat to the security of America. Revealing this information is only a threat to the PAST administration and the future of the GOP who STILL thinks that torturing of people is acceptable. In my opionion it takes more courage to admit mistakes so that one can learn from them instead of irresponsibly continuing down the same path without re-evaluation of the outcome of what has been done.

    God help our good troops caught in a foreign countries who will be tortured in the same manner that the US tortures its captives. How does that make anyone safer?

    April 19, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  25. barking republican ankle biters

    One more orange jumpsuit for smiley here,he knew what he was doing but he didnt think he would get caught.

    April 19, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
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