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Published:April 21st, 2009 12:42 EST
Obama Stands Firm In Decision to Release Interrogation Memos

Obama Stands Firm In Decision to Release Interrogation Memos

By Christopher HIllenbrand

President Barack Obama made a special trip to CIA`s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on Monday to fend off concerns over his decision to publicize the agency`s documents detailing the agency`s use of questionable interrogation practices in addition to boosting morale of CIA employees.

With the Obama administration`s approval, the Justice Department last Thursday revealed once confidential memos explaining how the Bush administration rationalized the CIA`s interrogation methods that have come under serious criticism from the public. According to the CIA, the memos were only slightly blue-penciled by the agency upon their release on Thursday.

At the conference in front of CIA employees, Obama said: "I acted primarily because of the exceptional circumstances that surrounded these memos, particularly the fact that so much of the information was public."

The method in particular drawing the most scrutiny is the CIA`s practice of simulating drowning, known as waterboarding, during which detainees would be subjected to being submerged in water at random intervals without controlling how or when they can escape from their surroundings. The technique of waterboarding as well as a slew of other forms of interrogation including extended periods of isolation, physical violence and sleep deprivation lasting up to seven days at a time, have been harshly denounced as torture by organizations like Amnesty International.

Attorney General Eric Holder has proclaimed the techniques as barbaric and forms of torture.

Since Obama released the memos, Republican legislators and former CIA officials have scolded the administration, arguing that the now-public documents expose the limits CIA interrogators have to abide by regarding their questioning abilities. Opponents also claim their publicity will hinder future interrogations now that international criminals have a road map for which to prepare themselves should they become captured.

Enclosed in the declassified documents, waterboarding was practiced by CIA personnel in the interrogations of the purported mastermind behind 9/11, Khalid Sheik Muhammed a recorded 183 times in March 2003. The same method was used 83 times on Abu Zubaydah, the alleged head of logistics for al-Qaida, in August 2002.

Obama asserted to the CIA conference on Monday that litigation was going to be pressed against concealing the information in the memos anyway and that a majority of the insight contained therein had already been obtained by news sources.

After the CIA director Leon Panetta introduced Obama to an applauding enthusiastic audience of 50 CIA employees, the president then stressed to the CIA officers and staff members that the scandal affecting the agency will soon pass.

President Obama said: "Don`t be discouraged by what`s happened the last few weeks. I know the last few days have been difficult. You need to know you`ve got my full support."

Not all the responses favored the president`s judgment, as several officers repeated what many retired CIA chiefs had said about the leaked briefs compromising a level of national security. Four living former CIA directors and a number of current top officials declaimed the administration`s decision.

Addressing the whirlwind of condemnation the intelligence agency has encountered since the memos` publication, Obama said: "You don`t get credit when things go good, but you sure get some blame when things don`t."

Stopping mid-thought in his speech as he overheard an "amen" from someone in the conference, Obama enunciated: "I got an amen corner out there."

He completely empathized with those in the intelligence community who seemingly have to manage their affairs with one hand tied behind their backs, while affirming the principle that keeping American ideals and values near and dear to us even in the face of our oppressors is "what makes the United States special and what makes you special."

Further along in his closed-doors talk in CIA headquarters, Obama swore to avoid prosecuting CIA agents implicated in the banned interrogation strategies.

The president`s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said on the behalf of the administration that the lawyers under the Bush administration who commissioned the documents approving the methods won`t be facing any charges in the near future.