July 29th, 2009
08:16 AM ET
April 20th, 2009
11:53 PM ET

Mistake on the "torture memos"

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/20/obama.cia/art.cia.gi.jpg]

Gary Berntsen
Fmr. CIA Officer and President of The Berntsen National Security Review

This past week President Obama authorized the release of a set of classified memorandums written during the Bush administration. These documents outlined the procedures and tactics employed during the interrogations of captured senior Al Qaeda operatives and have been referred to by the press as the “torture memos.” President Obama’s release of these memos took place despite substantial protest. The four most recent CIA Directors—John Deutsh, George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden—all recommended against the release. President Obama’s own newly appointed Director of CIA, Leon Panetta, did, too. Yet President Obama, in a seemingly relentless effort to discredit his predecessor, George W. Bush, has made the memoranda public.

In taking this action, President Obama has effectively defined the limits of what America, at its most aggressive and most passive, would do against Al Qaeda detainees. This will undoubtedly allow groups like Al Qaeda to adjust the preparation and training of their operatives. Administration officials as well as some journalists on the left have argued that the President took into consideration the fact that much of the memos’ contents have already made it into the press. This is a hollow defense. Speculation or discussion of these details in the press may certainly allow Al Qaeda and other terrorists to assess potential U.S. capabilities to some extent. But official White House memorandums released to the public, and immediately downloadable online, are the gold standard for Al Qaeda.

In addition to bolstering Al Qaeda’s tactical position and morale, I argue that President Obama has also demoralized those members of the CIA's Clandestine Service who make enormous personal sacrifices and take tremendous risks in the fight to keep our nation safe. After having served most of my adult life in Clandestine Service and having led many counterterrorism missions, I can say that the rank and file is truly horrified by President Obama’s naïve decision making.