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Dialogue Of The Deaf Over CIA Probe

Here's a prediction: Long after other issues du jour fade from the headlines, the `I'm right, you're wrong' dialogue of the deaf between left and right over the CIA's treatment of prisoners is going to remain an obsession for this country's chattering class. The decibel level, already uncomfortably high, will only climb through what's left of this summer and into the fall. What we're really witnessing is a rehash of an oldie but goodie. Call it Democrats vs. Republicans: Which party is better suited to protect the republic?

The last few days offer coming attractions in a debate already assuming the form of blood sport. First came the orchestrated leaks by former intelligence officials telling the Washington Post that morale at the agency has sagged since the announcement of an investigation into possible abuse by CIA interrogators. The effort here was clear: Portray the investigation as a witch hunt that's going to hurt national security while destroying the reputation of devoted public services.

Former vice president Dick Cheney picked up the theme as he complained to Fox's Chris Wallace on Sunday that politics was now informing the process (thereby ensuring that politics would now inform the process.) "It's clearly a political move," Cheney said while taking a few shots at Barack Obama's ability to lead the nation. "There's no other rationale for why they're doing this."

Actually, there is another rationale, though one that Cheney isn't going to acknowledge in front of the cameras. Eric Holder may be a party hack but as Attorney General of the United States, he is supposed to show independence and uphold the law. Unlike John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez, Holder should put some distance between himself and the White House (and maybe, in some small way, he's now trying to make up for his participation in the Marc Rich pardon at the end of the Clinton presidency. What's more, President Obama, who doesn't want to go to war with the CIA, would court political disaster if he attempted to squash the Justice Department's upcoming probe by special prosecutor John Durham.

Unlike the intricacies of health care or cap-and-trade, which make most people's eyes roll in the back of their heads, this is the stuff that makes pundits palpitate. Unfortunately, there's no clear way to declare who's going to be proved right in this debate until months - and more likely years - later. So with both sides using the issue as a club to establish their national security bonafides, you can bet on a screaming match that lasts quite a while until the opposing sides have exhausted themselves.


Out of curiosity, I spent some time surfing the Net to look up who had declared their positions on prisoner torture. As you might expect, there was no shortage of tough guys bloviating in the blogosphere. Unfortunately, I had no way of knowing how many had served in uniform. It was easier to come up with a list of former officers in opposition. They constitute a formidable block, led by Sen. John McCain. The Republicans may try o reprise their Cold War critique of Democrats as being soft on communism. But they'll have a tough sell with so many former officers against violating the Geneva Coventions and the convention against torture, which McCain notes, was ratified under President Reagan. On CBS's "Meet The Press" here's some of what he also had to say:

"I think that these interrogations once publicized helped al Qaeda recruit. I got that from an al Qaeda operative in a prison camp in Iraq who told-- who told me that. I think that the ability of us to work with our allies was harmed and so-- and I believe that information, according to the FBI and others, could have been gained through other methods...."

"And the second thing about it is, if you inflict enough pain on anyone, they'll tell you anything that to make the pain stop. So you not only get, perhaps, right information but you also get a lot of wrong information. But the damage that it did to America's image in the world is something we're still on the way to repairing. This is an ideological struggle as well as a-- as a physical one..."


Separately, the following is an (admittedly incomplete) list of former high-ranking officers against enhanced interrogation techniques. The roster includes:

General Colin Powell

General John Vessey

Brigadier General David M. Brahms

Brigadier General James Cullen

Brigadier General Evelyn P. Foote

Lieutenant General Robert Gard

Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn

Admiral Don Guter

General Joseph Hoar

Rear Admiral John D. Hutson

Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy

General Merrill McPeak

Major General Melvyn Montano

General John Shalikashvili

Admiral Gregory G. Johnson

Admiral Jay. L. Johnson

General Paul J. Kern

Admiral Charles R. Larson

General David M. Maddox

General Merrill A. McPeak

Admiral Stansfield Turner

William G.T. Tuttle Jr.

General Anthony Zinni

General Daniel W. Christman

Lieutenant General Paul E. Funk

Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard Jr.

Lieutenant General Jay M. Garner

Admiral Lee F. Gunn

Lieutenant General Arlen D. Jameson

Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy

Lieutenant General Donald L. Kerrick

Vice Admiral Albert H. Konetzni Jr.

Lieutenant General Charles Otstott

Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan

Lieutenant General Harry E. Soyster

Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper

Major General John Batiste

Major General Eugene Fox

Major General John L. Fugh

Rear Admiral Don Guter

Major General Fred Haynes

Rear Admiral John Hutson

Major General Melvyn Montano

Major General Gerald T. Sajer

Major General Michael J. Scotti Jr.

Brigadier General David M. Brahms

Brigadier General James Cullen

Brigadier General Evelyn P. Foot

Brigadier General Murray G. Sagsveen

Brigadier General David R. Irvine

Brigadier General John H. Johns

Brigadier General Richard O'Meara

Brigadier General John Schmitt

Brigadier General Anthony Verrengia

Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis

Ambassador Pete A Peterson, USAF (Ret.)

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