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Hot Topic: Is "Enhanced Interrogation" Justifiable?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News on Monday that the Obama administration should release CIA memos that, he says, will show "the success" of the CIA's use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" during the Bush administration.

Last week, the administration released previously top-secret CIA memos authorizing the use of tactics such as stripping prisoners nude, depriving them of sleep, slapping them, placing them in a cramped box filled with insects, and employing the process of simulated drowning known as waterboarding. Waterboarding is now considered by the government to be torture.

Cheney said he found the decision to release those memos – but not others that he says show the success of the use of the tactics – "a little bit disturbing." He said he has read classified memos "that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country," arguing that they should be made public so the country can have an "honest debate."

President Obama, who has banned the use of many of the methods outlined in the memos, initially indicated that his administration would not prosecute those involved in authorizing and applying the tactics. But facing pressure in the wake of the release of the memos, he indicated today that he is open to prosecution of those "who formulated those legal decisions," though not those who carried out the operations.

Cheney, who has been a persistent and vocal critic of the young Obama administration, offers a fundamentally different worldview than Mr. Obama. The former vice president's call for the release of more memos is essentially a push for evidence that the ends justify the means, no matter how bad the means may look.

The president, by contrast, argues that America must hold to an ethical standard higher than its enemies, even if it makes the job harder; the ends, to him, will never justify the tactics outlined in the CIA memos.

4957867"Sometimes it seems as if…we're operating with one hand tied behind our back" in striving to operate ethically, he told CIA employees yesterday. And yet, he suggested, it's worth it.

"What makes the United States special and what makes you special is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy; even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when it's expedient to do so," said the president.

That's a view that Cheney appears to see as naïve; he has suggested that Mr. Obama's policies have made America less safe. Following such ethical considerations, he seems to think, means putting American lives at risk.

All this is not to say that these "enhanced" techniques are necessarily effective; many argue that the sort of treatment outlined in the CIA memos more often than not yields false confessions or bad information. One cannot necessarily operate on the premise that the further you go, the safer you can make the country – even if Jack Bauer's heroics (on Fox's "24") might suggest otherwise. Still, if you believe that such techniques can work – as Cheney, and many in the intelligence world, clearly do – then the debate becomes about whether or not you are willing to limit your potential effectiveness by reducing the tools at your disposal.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Mr. Obama's decision to release the memos in the first place has been criticized by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former CIA director Michael Hayden, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman and others; Mukasey and Hayden wrote in the Wall Street Journal that "its effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001."

The president rejects such arguments; to him, the American identity is tied to the fact that "we are willing to go back and correct [our] mistakes and keep our eye on those ideals and values that have been passed on generation to generation," as he said today. (The president has also pointed out that the techniques outlined in the memos had previously been disclosed, and thus, he argues, the release of the memos does not aide terrorists.)

In the broadest sense, the dispute centers on questions of idealism and pragmatism – and to what degree the two can be merged. The president believes America can be kept safe while operating at higher ethical standards than its enemies; the former vice president believes that it is sometimes necessary to use tactics that many find objectionable in order to protect the American way of life.

Where do you come down on the issue? Let us know both in the poll below and in comments.

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