Too much information hinders U.S. policy
“On Aug. 17, 1942, a nationally syndicated columnist wrote that she had received ‘a very stern letter’ after commenting about the weather, ‘…and so from now on I shall not tell you whether it rains or whether the sun shines where I happen to be.’
The columnist was Eleanor Roosevelt and she was referring to an article in which she had described weather conditions during one of her official visits around the country with her husband, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, during World War II,” writes Michael S. Sweeney in his history of the Office of Censorship, “Secrets of Victory.”
We were a nation at war and Mrs. Roosevelt had said too much.
During World War II every American was discouraged from saying, writing, or publishing anything that might aid the enemy while America pursued victory, and every citizen was reminded constantly that, “Loose lips sink ships.”
My how times have changed.
In our modern confessional era, in which no emotion and no secret is to be hidden, we blab everything, caring more about our feelings and self-esteem than about defeating an enemy just as determined as the ones we fought more than 60 years ago.
In an act that would have been unheard of during World War II, the Pentagon, in response to a lawsuit by the never-vigilant ACLU, will release by the end of May photos depicting the alleged abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan by American personnel. No doubt this will make people who regard America — or at least the Bush administration — as a greater evil than al-Qaida feel better. It also is bound to encourage our enemies and discourage intelligence officers who risk their lives daily in faraway places in order to protect Americans and our way of life.
In any game, much less a war, when one player plays by a set of rules and the other plays by no rules at all, it does not take a genius to conclude who will win. America’s enemies know how to play us and how to use our Constitution, legal system, the media and public opinion to advance their ends, while frustrating ours.
America-haters expect the public to recoil at tactics far less severe than the ones they use. They want us to believe our behavior is directly linked to theirs and that if we don’t use techniques to extract information from suspected terrorists — information that might save American lives — then they won’t torture Americans who might have information they need to help them kill more of us.
Porter Goss, the former director of the CIA and former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote an op-ed column for The Washington Post recently in which he said, “I feel our government has crossed the red line between properly protecting our national security and trying to gain partisan political advantage. We can’t have a secret intelligence service if we keep giving away all the secrets.”
Goss is not a wishful thinker: “The suggestion that we are safer now because information about interrogation techniques is in the public domain conjures up images of unicorns and fairy dust. We have given our enemy invaluable information about the rules by which we operate.”
Dr. Mark M. Lowenthal, former assistant director of Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production, told Jake Tapper of ABC News the release of interrogation photos is “prurient” and “reprehensible.” Lowenthal added, “We ask people to do extremely dangerous things, things they’ve been ordered to do by legal authorities, with the understanding that they will get top cover if something goes wrong. They don’t believe they have that cover anymore.”
Terrorist states and the freelancers they support can only be thinking that our “icky” feelings toward the necessities of war will give them an opening they can exploit to kill us and ruin our economy and way of life.
War is hell and that’s what we should make it for our enemies, because hell is precisely what they intend to make for America and the West.
Releasing pictures that reveal interrogation techniques and other information can help the enemy construct that road to hell for us, paved with our good intentions.
— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.