Shooting blanks

It is April 2010. Islamic terrorists have been caught attempting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge in New York with sophisticated high-explosives. The plot was recently uncovered by the CIA, and the FBI and New York law enforcement officials foiled the attempt to destroy the bridge in progress. Two of the terrorists committed suicide when caught, but two others were captured before they could explode their suicide vests. In the ensuing hours, the NSA picked up chatter indicating that one or more additional attacks were underway somewhere on the Eastern seaboard of the United States -- though when and where could not be ascertained. The two terrorists caught are immediately transported to an FBI holding cell. Using the tight rules for interrogation that the Obama administration has decreed, the FBI attempts to get them to tell authorities the operational details of the impending attacks. Neither will talk.  Interrogators are stymied by the fact that these terrorists know that the Obama administration has banned any enhanced interrogation techniques and they only need to stay silent. They do so, refusing to talk. As the clock ticks, Federal authorities raise the Homeland Security threat level and hope for the best -- knowing that they can do little to gain the information needed to prevent the additional attacks from happening.

Sound far fetched? Hardly. This is very real possibility that America could face in the future. The Obama administration has now created a situation where it has not only publicly banned the use of enhanced interrogation, but has made it abundantly clear that those officials who might -- in a moment of crisis -- issue an order to obtain information through the use of such techniques will be subject to future prosecution once the emergency has passed. In this environment, no one will be willing to cross any lines to ensure that we obtain the intelligence necessary to save American lives. The Justice Department will have issued directives making it clear that there is no gray area in questioning terrorist suspects, and that not even the "smoking gun" scenario that administration critics have warned about is justification for the use of harsh interrogation techniques. We have chosen our democratic values over our security, and it has been made clear that this is not a choice that is subject to interpretation. Terrorists get some hot coffee, a warm bed to sleep in and a government provided attorney. And the rest of us suffer the consequences.

This is a scenario that Barack Obama should think long and hard about. He needs to understand that the threat from Islamic terrorism remains grave, and that we need all the tools at our disposal to ensure our safety. Former CIA Director George Tenet and current National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair have made it clear that the now-banned interrogation techniques were extremely effective in gathering actionable intelligence that has saved American lives. We have now unilaterally disarmed ourselves in the fight against an existential terrorist threat -- like going into battle against AK-47 assault rifles with a single-shot pellet gun. Hardly a fair fight.

The real issue here is that the decision not to provide immunity to those who approve the use of enhanced interrogation when the nation is under threat will have a chilling effect in the future. It will now be impossible to find anyone to recommend, approve or execute any technique that will create personal legal jeopardy. Even with a smoking gun or impending attack, Obama has tied the nation's hands. We are now shooting blanks.

Barack Obama, you may think you are the most moral man in America, above reproach and without any doubt of your wisdom. But someday it may be you who personally has to issue an order you have deemed illegal, because there is no one in the chain of command who is willing to do it for you. And it might be you who has to get face-to-face with a terrorist in order to glean the information you know will save American lives, because no interrogator will do more than ask for name, rank and serial number.

And if you cross the line, Mr. President, you might find a president in the future instructing the Justice Department to investigate you for breaking the law.

You should be careful what you wish for, Mr. President.