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Obama Values: Kill But Don't Waterboard

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

At the end of his "60 Minutes" interview, President Obama said of Osama bin Laden's death, "Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn't deserve what he got needs to have their head examined." 

The longer he serves in office, the more Obama sounds like George W. Bush.   

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd also has started to sound like Bush. In her Sunday column, "Killing Evil Doesn't Make Us Evil," Dowd writes that when Navy SEALs shot and killed bin Laden, it seemed like "the only civilized and morally sound response."  

To review: Obama and Dowd long have claimed that it was morally reprehensible for U.S. intelligence operatives to waterboard 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Candidate Obama said that waterboarding was "never acceptable" because it contradicts our values. Obama even dished his now-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for having said in 2006 that she would authorize brutal interrogation measures to prevent a terrorist attack.  

Apparently, it is consistent with Obama's and Dowd's values to shoot and kill an unarmed bin Laden -- as long as you don't waterboard him to learn possible intelligence that might prevent a terrorist attack first.  

It's amazing how partisan politics can make the medicine go down.   

Don't get me wrong. I support the president's decision to order the mission that resulted in bin Laden's much-deserved death. Besides, going through the logistics necessary to apprehend bin Laden might have jeopardized a Navy SEAL's neck -- and that's a price too rich.  

In this alternate political universe, the Bushies are reduced to making the now-abandoned liberal arguments.   

UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo, who wrote memos authorizing waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques when he worked in the Bush Justice Department, penned a piece last week in The Wall Street Journal that criticized Obama for not trying to take bin Laden alive. Yoo wrote that Obama "would rather kill (al-Qaida) leaders -- whether by drones or special ops teams -- than wade through the difficult questions raised by their detention." Yoo argued that Obama squandered a valuable intelligence opportunity.  

Of course, Yoo knows that under Obama's terms, U.S. officials likely would not learn much from a captured bin Laden. The late al-Qaida founder knows that intelligence officials can't threaten him or try to strong-arm him; they can only read him his Miranda rights.  

Any operatives tempted to assert themselves need only think about the fate of their predecessors: harsh litigation techniques.  

In August 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder reopened criminal investigations into CIA interrogations -- four years after the Department of Justice, which had investigated instances of possible abuse, chose not to prosecute most cases. (The probe had resulted in a successful prosecution and disciplinary actions against some individuals.)  

After the White House announced that bin Laden was dead, National Security Adviser John Brennan saluted Obama for one of the "gutsiest" political moves ever. On "60 Minutes," Obama said he could not praise intelligence officials enough. If the president wants to be truly gutsy, he should tell Holder to take his heavy-handed re-investigation and shove it. 

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