Foreign and Defense Policy

Petraeus Appointment Is Bad for the Pentagon — and the CIA

Tom Donnelly eloquently explains why the appointment of General David Petraeus as director of the CIA is bad news for the Department of Defense. Here is why his appointment may be bad news for the CIA as well.

Petraeus is a hero to many for his bold leadership of the military surges in Iraq and Afghanistan—and I count myself among his most ardent admirers in this regard. He might well have been an outstanding chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But his outspoken public criticism of the men and women of the CIA, whose interrogation of high-value terrorist leaders helped stop a second wave of attacks on the United States, make him an unfortunate choice for the CIA job.

In an interview with Fox News in May 2009, Petraeus aligned himself squarely with critics of the CIA, who have accused top counterterrorism officials in the agency of violating the law and violating our values. He declared:

When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Conventions, we rightly have been criticized. So as we move forward, it is important to, again, live our values, to live the agreements we have made in the international justice arena, and to practice those.

You can see the video here:

In fact, as I make clear in my book Courting Disaster, the United States did not violate the Geneva Conventions. When Petraeus declares that CIA officials did so, he is effectively calling them war criminals. That is not encouraging to the men and women he may be about to lead.

Of course, his statements are in line with those made by Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama, each of whom has leveled similar accusations. Current CIA director Leon Panetta was also a critic of CIA interrogations before taking the helm of the agency. But once he arrived at Langley, while not backing off his prior opposition to the program, Panetta became a strong defender of the agency’s interrogators—vigorously opposing the release of the Justice Department memos detailing the CIA’s interrogation techniques, and fighting Holder’s decision to re-open criminal investigations into their conduct, overriding the considered opinions of career prosecutors who declined to prosecute them. In light of Petraeus’s unfortunate comments, CIA officials have a right to wonder: will they have a similarly vigorous advocate in their new director?

Thanks to Obama the CIA is out of the interrogation business, so there is no immediate impact on U.S. interrogation policy (or lack thereof). But that is also the problem. Appointing a CIA director with such restrictive views on interrogation does not bode well for the chances of much-needed improvements in our detention and interrogation policy.

General Petraeus should be asked tough questions during his confirmation hearings. These include:

• If he really believes that CIA officials violated the Geneva Conventions and thus the laws of war, does he support criminal prosecution of those who approved enhanced interrogations and those who carried them out?

• Is the Army Field Manual (whose drafting he supervised) really sufficient to question high-value detainees?

• Since the manual is publicly available on the Internet, can’t terrorists train to resist those techniques?

• Does the Field Manual exhaust every possible lawful interrogation technique? And if not, why should the United States deprive itself of other lawful interrogation techniques?

• What does he think of former CIA Director Mike Hayden’s argument that the president’s executive order should be amended to allow additional lawful techniques, or that a classified annex be added to the manual to restore some uncertainty as to what captured terrorists may face?

• Why is it that, outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been not one single detention of a high-value al Qaeda terrorist by the United States since Obama took office? And what, if anything, will he do to change that?

• Does he believe that high-value terrorists should be taken into custody alive whenever possible, rather than being killed with unmanned drones?

• If he agrees that terrorists should be taken into custody alive whenever possible, exactly where should they be taken? Does he agree with current CIA Director Leon Panetta’s statement to Congress that if the United States captured any high-value al Qaeda terrorists, they would likely be taken to Guantanamo Bay for questioning?

• What will he do about Umar Patek—the first high-value al Qaeda terrorist captured alive since Obama took office? Patek is in Pakistani custody, and the United States has reportedly not been allowed access to him. Press reports indicate that Patek was in Yemen before his capture, and attended a meeting of fellow jihadists in Mecca before heading to meet with al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan—meaning he could have potentially life-saving information about plots against the homeland.

• Is it acceptable for the United States to be without access to such a high-value terrorist? Does he agree that it is essential such a high-value terrorist be taken into U.S. custody for interrogation? As CIA director, would he do everything in his power to ensure that Patek in transferred into U.S. custody, just as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other senior al Qaeda leaders were once handed over to the United States by Pakistan?

General Petraeus is an outstanding military leader who turned the tide of the conflict in Iraq and has set the battle in Afghanistan on a positive trajectory. He deserves respect and admiration for these achievements. But this does not mean that he is the right man to lead the CIA. Petraeus should have to answer these and other pressing questions before he is confirmed by the Senate for this critical post.

3 thoughts on “Petraeus Appointment Is Bad for the Pentagon — and the CIA

  1. Experience interrogation professionals are united in their rejection of torture as an effective technique. Torture is not a part of the CIA’s culture nor is it condoned by the vast majority of CIA member and leaders. It was injected into CIA practice by a White House cabal lacking in the honor that characterizes military officers such as Petreaus. Thiessen, you are a thoroughly disgusting man.

  2. I would really appreciate it, Mr. Thiessen, if you would be so good to explain how the United States of America, a Constitutional Republic, an upholder of moral decency in the world, and a leader in advocating for the civil rights for all peoples, can justify the same sorts of behavior for which we condemn countries like Cuba, China, North Korea, and Libya.

  3. Marc Thiessen doesn’t agree with the US Constitution’s 8th Amendment. You know, the one that states:

    “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

    Marc forgets the reason it was put in the Constitution was because King George III used torture with impunity. He used it on American colonialists, our forefathers.

    Marc, maybe you and John Yoo think torture is a wonderful thing, but the US Constitution and the Geneva Convention forbid it. Just because your boy dubya wasn’t jailed for his unconstitutional orders doesn’t make it right. Marc, be careful what you wish for. It could very easily be you sitting/lying there being tortured. Who would rescue you then?

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