January 23rd, 2009
09:45 AM ET

What's the end game?

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Suzanne Simons
CNN Executive Producer

When it comes to the war on terror, President Barack Obama is wasting no time changing the way the war is waged, in fact he isn't even using the term "war on terror" anymore. By signing four executive orders that deal with the way the U.S. confronts terrorism, or even the suspicion of it, he is beginning to unravel much of what was put into place by the Bush Administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

One of the four executive orders specifically bans torture and will bring an end to the "enhanced methods" made available to the CIA under Mr. Bush. Those enhanced methods include water boarding, the practice of strapping a suspect to a board, gagging them, and pouring water over his face in an effort to simulate drowning. A ban on the act that some see as torture and others deem effective, is welcomed by some intelligence sources who insist the Agency never asked for those powers, but says they were pushed on them by an administration eager to show strength under threat. Just last week, CIA Director Michael Hayden, in parting comments to reporters, said "The Agency did none of this out of enthusiasm. It did it out of duty. It did it with the best legal advice it had." Some inside the Agency, including Hayden, still insist the methods were effective and one former official points to information gleaned from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that led to the detention of other top-ranking members of al Qaeda as proof. The Agency has made progress against al Qaeda namely by taking out many of its top operatives. It's no longer the same terror network that it was in the days after 9/11. Clearly the mindset in fighting terrorism has changed, too.

Closing secret detention facilities overseas is a move applauded by human rights advocates but criticized by Republicans who say the measures taken under the Bush Administration have helped keep America from being attacked. Secret facilities under Bush were legally sanctioned, and keeping detainees there for long periods of time often yielded results, but the problem was that everyone was looking for the "big score". But intelligence sources also valued the rich detail that was gleaned from detainees as critical to gaining a better understanding of al Qaeda's network and how it operated. They found out who handled the money and the travel, both key points if your goal is to unravel a network, not just a plot.

How might closing secret facilities change the game?

Imagine a suspect is plucked from some dusty road in a remote part of the world and taken to a secret holding facility where there was no transparent legal process. Imagine they are interrogated for weeks or months on end using some of those enhanced methods. The problem before was what to do with them once the methods had been exhausted. There was no end game. The choice was to keep them indefinitely or release them back into the population, where they could unleash a rage of retribution. Neither ideal options. The move to ban secret facilities may bring more transparency to the process, but former Agency leaders expect that those holding facilities will still exist because they are critical to the process of information gathering. Suspects who wake up in cells with no windows, who have no idea where they are or how long they will be there are more likely to talk, according to one former Agency official. Keeping a suspect guessing is seen as an advantage for interrogators who try to get as much information from a detainee as possible before a legal process kicks in. The difference now would be that those facilities would become stops on the road to an organized legal structure either back in the U.S. or elsewhere, and no longer the final destination for many detainees.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Cecilia

    Says the person who removed Christ from her own name. Yeesh. Ever stop to think some of those people that Bush put there because they were terrorists might not have done anything at all? Wow. Not every Muslim is out to get you.

    January 23, 2009 at 11:51 am |
  2. Lukie

    You are assuming all 911 families think alike...

    Some (if not many) of the people they pick up are regular citizens that are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I respect that freedom isn't free, but does it always have to be at the expense of others? Aren't we supposed to be better than that?

    Call me naïve, but I believe there has to be another way...

    January 23, 2009 at 11:45 am |
  3. Alberta

    My comment is to xtina of Chicago IL and any one who share her sentiments. If you did know what went at Obama's desk nor his conversation nor what the man is thinking, I would recommend a better attitude of you gong into 2009.
    1. Reframe from communicating opinions you know little or nothing about. BecauseGod knows this whole country was shaken by
    what took place on 911. One thing Mr Obama mensioned in his inaugrational speak was that we the people need to get back to the
    basic of loving their neighbor and finding ways to contribute today.
    2. Mr Obama, our new president lives an a house and is your neighbor. Let's include him. Let stop the beating up on our
    political leaders. Think of yourself. You are not perfect. No one is exempt from imperfect. The Presidency is a job, I think Mr Obama is
    trying to stop the war and the threat of terrorism.
    3. Mr. Obama realizes matters of 911 where not handled properly from the start . That mean he is attempting to undo somethings to make peace.
    4. Xtina I advise you to carefully follow Mr. Obama and try to follow along the days ahead. Find some way you can contribute to make America better in words and in deed. We must change the way we think inorder to get different results.. the results we want not the results we do not desire. God Bless You.

    January 23, 2009 at 11:24 am |
  4. xtina, chicago IL

    This is a slap in the face to all 911 families; the most important thing on Obama's desk is to release suspected terrorists and sign sign an order to slaughter the unborn ??!!

    January 23, 2009 at 10:11 am |