Editorial Column: Radio Fear America

The New York Times

March 11, 2008 – Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia read the funnies over the radio to cheer up New Yorkers during a newspaper strike. President Franklin Roosevelt gave “fireside chats” to bolster Americans during the depression. President Bush used his radio address on Saturday to try to scare Americans into believing they have to sacrifice their rights and their values to combat terrorism.

Mr. Bush announced that he had vetoed the 2008 intelligence budget because it contains a clause barring the C.I.A. from torturing prisoners. Mr. Bush told the nation that it “would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror — the C.I.A. program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives.” That is simply not true. Nothing in the bill shuts down the C.I.A. interrogation program. It just requires the C.I.A.’s interrogators to follow the rules already contained in the Army field manual on prisoners.

The manual does not stop interrogators from questioning prisoners aggressively. It simply forbids the use of techniques that are regarded by most civilized people as abuse and torture, including sexual abuse, electric shocks, mock executions and the infamous form of simulated drowning known as waterboarding.

In a letter we published on Sunday, Mark Mansfield, the C.I.A. spokesman, said the agency has no objections to those restrictions and that the “C.I.A. neither conducts nor condones torture.”

We’re glad he cleared that up. Mr. Mansfield’s boss, the C.I.A. director, Gen. Michael Hayden, told Congress recently that he had banned waterboarding in 2006 (after the courts started questioning Mr. Bush’s detention policies), but he was still “not certain” whether it is legal.

General Hayden’s boss, the director of national intelligence, thinks it is, and Vice President Dick Cheney apparently agrees.

That made us wonder what Mr. Mansfield had in mind when he wrote that the field manual is too confining, that there are interrogation techniques the C.I.A. wants to use but won’t talk about. He said they are necessary and approved by the Justice Department and the intelligence committees in Congress.

But the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, John Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, disagreed strongly. He said the veto itself would hurt intelligence-gathering “in the name of preserving a separate C.I.A. interrogation program that Congress has determined is not necessary and, in fact, counterproductive.”

Mr. Bush said the C.I.A. program helped “prevent a number of attacks,” but Mr. Rockefeller said he had “heard nothing” to suggest that was true. He also said any information the C.I.A. collected could have been obtained through legal methods.

This is not the first time that Mr. Bush has misled Americans on intelligence-gathering and antiterrorism operations, and it may not be the last. It will be up to the next president to restore the rule of law.

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