It gets worse. Not only has the administration dealt a shattering blow to the CIA for actions in the past, but it now also seeks to weaken our ability to monitor threats in the future. This is the effect of the plan to place high-value interrogations under the control of a multiagency group that will be limited to the noncoercive methods of the Army Field Manual. This group will be answerable directly to the president and the FBI. It will be unlikely to attract the best operatives from the CIA or the FBI to sign on. This is tantamount to downgrading the war on terrorism, as Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal put it, "to not much more than tough talk."
The president was right the first time when he told the CIA he wanted to look forward and not back. Yet he has sanctioned a divisive frenzy with a special prosecutor who, once launched, cannot be fully recalled or directed, all against the advice of the very responsible CIA director, Panetta, and four prior CIA directors.
There is a historical reference point. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was at the center of a program to force the Poles to give territory to Germany on the eve of World War II in order to appease the Nazis. After he resigned in May 1940, there was powerful political pressure for an inquiry into what had really happened. But his successor, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was appalled at the possibility that such an inquiry would cause a split in British national unity during wartime. He refused the political pressure from his allies to expose Chamberlain's policy. "I put it on the shelf," he told the House of Commons, "from which the historians, when they have time, will select their documents to tell their stories." We have to think of the future and not the past.
As only Churchill could have expressed it, "If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future." President Obama would be wise to pay heed to this great statesman.