American Morning

Tune in at 6am Eastern for all the news you need to start your day.
April 21st, 2009
09:37 AM ET

Fmr. CIA operative: Torture does not work

CNN's Kiran Chetry speaks to a former CIA operative who says President Obama needs to release more about torture.
CNN's Kiran Chetry speaks to a former CIA operative who says President Obama needs to release more about torture.

President Obama has come under strong criticism from some in the CIA and others for releasing memos that detail some of the agency’s harshest interrogation tactics. Yesterday, the president went to the heart of the spy business to explain his decision.

“I want to be very clear and very blunt. I've done so for a simple reason. Because I believe that our nation is stronger and more secure when we deploy the full measure of both our power and the power of our values.”

Former CIA operative Robert Baer supports the move and says perhaps even more information should be released. Baer spoke to Kiran Chetry via Skype on CNN’s American Morning Tuesday.

Kiran Chetry: You support the move? You think the release of the Bush-era memos on interrogation tactics was the right move and that it did not compromise national security?

Robert Baer: Well, not at all. All of those techniques are in the military manuals, which are on the internet. Most of that information appeared in the New York Review of books in Mark Danner's article, “The Prisoner’s Getting Out.” It talked about what they were subjected to. It's not a secret. None of these techniques are a secret so why not release it? I think what we really need to do is clear the air on torture. My biggest objection is nobody, until now, has presented evidence that torture works and I just don't see it.

Chetry: Not everybody sees it from your point of view. Even people within the agency, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former CIA chief Michael Hayden, have both said they think releasing the memos threatens national security. Do you think they have a point?

Baer: No. It’s an executive decision whether to use torture or not. That’s very clear for the eight years of the Bush administration and we can go way beyond those limits if we want. If we are attacked again this president is going to be faced with the same decision. Do we use abusive interrogation techniques? We don't have to be confined to these military techniques. We can go way beyond it and change policy at any time. The question I have, does it compromise sources and methods? The answer is no.

Chetry: Your fellow "Time" magazine columnist Joe Klein talked about the concerns at the CIA and said it represents to them “a breach of faith – that the release of the information will cripple the clandestine service” and “represents a grant of too much information to our enemies.” He says it might make it harder for them to do their job. It's something the president alluded to when he was well-received in his visit yesterday to the agency.

Baer: Well, you know, here is the thing. Yes, it is demoralizing to the CIA. Any time scandals appear in the press it demoralizes the CIA. But this should have been thought of seven years ago when this was started. That is not the CIA’s job, to do hostile interrogations. It’s classical espionage, which it was diverted from doing. And the CIA does best when it’s left alone. This was a very political decision and it was a mistake.

Filed under: Controversy • Politics
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Soul

    Unfortunately, Americans will never truly understand the realities of terrorism until the time comes when we are hit again. In a blink of an eye, it could be a family member of yours whose life is taken. In this instance, I guarantee your stance will change from one of a civil rights activist who believes in the rights of the individual terrorists to one of active involvement, i.e. you will be the first one in line to use the harshest of torture techniques if you knew the information extracted could have prevented their death.

    Why as Americans do we forget the lives of the innocent in order to protect the rights of terrorists? Have we learned nothing from 9/11? May God help us.

    June 9, 2009 at 5:44 pm |
  2. MsAnastasia

    Zach...bush & cheney did not need to torture anyone to stop 9/11, all bush had to do was act on the August 6, 2001 PDB that said "BIN LADEN DETERMINED TO ATTACK ON U.S. SOIL USING HIJACKED PLANES TO HIT HIGH VALUE TARGETS"...It even mentions the WTC
    as a target, I'm sure if bush had warned the security at the WTC
    of the threat 1,000's would have left the area after the 1st plane hit
    the S.Tower...and certainly the people in the N.Tower would Never
    have stayed in the building. Bush did NOTHING after reading about
    the threat, he continued his month long vacation after only being in
    office for 6 months.

    April 23, 2009 at 5:22 pm |
  3. MsAnastasia

    CNN really needs to give experts who know for a fact torture does
    not work equal amount of time and, certainly more respect then
    a law breaker like Cheney...he let soldiers do time for his and
    bush's much for supporting the troops.

    April 23, 2009 at 5:15 pm |
  4. Zach

    Current officials need to use their head. If you polled the american population at noon september 11, 2001 I would bet that over 90 percent would not have cared what methods needed to be used to find and punish the individuals responsible for the attacks. Most responses may even be explicit and grotesque. To attack the individuals that looked out for the safety of this nation is shameful. On the day of the next attack it will be interesting to see their sentiment.

    April 23, 2009 at 8:37 am |
  5. Hampton

    The president is really messing up and so is congress. People need to understand the enemy we are fighting. These people think it is okay to cut peoples heads off and fly planes into buildings. Americans need to remember this was just after the attacks of 9/11 and we need to know what was next. By doing what the president has done he has sent a message through out this country that it is okay to take down your guard, he may not have meant to do that but that is what he did. It will happen again it is when and how big.

    April 22, 2009 at 9:43 am |
  6. jenrus

    I have a teenager that is constantly lying to me. Just wondering if I could use the Bush/Cheney interrogation technics as a precedent to extract the truth as needed?

    April 22, 2009 at 8:42 am |
  7. Steve

    Torture is not useful unless you know that your target does have the answer for a specifc question. For example I would hope that if we have captured someone who knows where the nuke is and the code to turn it off, he would be tortured until we found it and the bomb deactivted. Call me immoral. I would rather live.

    Now the above is a corner case. Where torture is really useless is as a triage for gathering information. If you torture some low level operative and your just data mining, he will tell you what he thinks will make you stop. So in the cases where it was used, I don't think it really was useful as we did not really know the question we wanted to ask. You waterboard me, I'll admit I'm a scret agent of the CIA

    April 21, 2009 at 2:36 pm |
  8. Kristin

    Here you go again CNN, I turn on my TV this morning and have to see Cheney's hideous face. And your AM hosts take what he says so seriously – or is that an act? I would like to see your "journalists" dig a little deeper and present the real story on torture. I would like to see an interview with the guy who was waterboarded 183 times in one month. Let him tell his story. Cheney should be in prison.

    April 21, 2009 at 12:24 pm |
  9. Jackie in Dallas

    Chetry, just because the man didn't give you answers you wanted, you act as if he is a traitor. Actually, he is expressing the view of many Americans, including me. There really isn't anything in those memos that we – and the world – didn't already know.

    I'm the seventh generation of US military veterans from my family. In all my reading both in history and Psychology (and I've done a lot of that!), I've never found proof that torture works. Torture will get people to say anything it requires to make it stop. Period. My father, a conservative his entire life, helped free prisoners of Nazi Germany who had been tortured, and he would never support the use of torture. In fact, he would never believe that the U.S. would sink that low. I'm glad he didn't live to see an American President and Vice President support the use of torture!

    April 21, 2009 at 12:09 pm |
  10. Don Cooper

    I am sad that Fox Lite - excuse me, CNN - opted to run lengthy excerpts of Dick Cheney's latest attempt to defend the indefensible and gave barely any air time to a former CIA operative's rebuttal of Cheney's usual litany of falsehoods. Cheney and his neo-con cronnies were consistently wrong on every major issue during the past 8 years, yet CNN decides to grant Cheney a forum every time he ventures out of his secure location.

    April 21, 2009 at 10:15 am |