A Few Good Men?

January 13, 2010

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it.”

Writing in last Sunday’s New York Times, former CIA officer Robert Grenier channeled Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup as he slammed the Obama administration for releasing the Justice Department ‘torture memos’ last year.

Grenier described the publication of the memos as “a blatantly partisan act” designed to pour “opprobrium and scorn” on intelligence officers whose only offense had been to follow “lawful orders”.

When you start invoking the Nuremberg defense it is time to take a long hard look in the mirror. The instruction to torture prisoners in US custody was not lawful. It broke established and well-publicized domestic and international criminal laws.

Furthermore, senior military leaders, like General David Petraeus and Admiral Dennis Blair, have testified that these abuses cost American lives and greatly undermined military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those who serve on the frontlines protecting the public from terrorist violence – in many ways the ultimate human rights abuse – deserve our gratitude and respect.

However, as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor observed in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld a state of war is not a blank check for a president. It is still less so for an intelligence officer.

In a democracy how you go about defending freedom matters. We don’t just have the right to know what has been done in our names, in a democracy, we have the obligation to find out.

Just like the police officers we ask to daily risk their lives to protect our communities, CIA officers are not above the law and they must expect to be held accountable for their actions.