Shh! Al-Qaida is listening

If everyone knows that the United States uses waterboarding, why are we still keeping it a secret?

By Tim Grieve

Published December 11, 2007 7:15PM (EST)

When the White House refuses to say whether the United States engages in "waterboarding," it's usually through some formulation like the one offered by the president last month: "It doesn't make any sense to tell an enemy what we're doing."

At the White House today, a reporter asked the relevant question: "I understand the rationale for not wanting to discuss specific techniques. It's to not tip off American enemies, to help them train as to how to evade what questioning they get. [But] after a retired team member is on nationwide television explaining exactly what was done, is there an al-Qaida operative anywhere who doesn't know that this might be in the arsenal?"

Dana Perino wasn't answering any questions about interrogation techniques today -- not even a question she deemed "reasonable" -- and she certainly wasn't going to give a straight answer to this one.

"Obviously, al-Qaida listens closely to everything that we do and say," Perino said. "And that's something that we should be -- that we should keep in mind. What the president said is that he's going to do what it takes to protect this country, in a legal way. The intelligence community has worked very hard in order to do that. Remember that the -- these are classified for a reason. We don't talk about specific techniques, we don't think it's prudent, we don't think it's a good idea to do so. But it is discussed in the appropriate arena, which is on the Hill. And Gen. Hayden, again, is up there today answering questions probably about all the questions that you're asking me, which are questions that he can answer in a closed setting. And I think it's reasonable and that people should be able to agree that it's reasonable that such matters of sensitivity should remain classified and not spoken about publicly."

Reporter: But, in fact, it has been spoken about in public. So, what, at this point ...

Perino: You know, oftentimes, I'm asked about things that are in the newspaper. Just because someone comes out and talks about it doesn't mean that I'm obligated to confirm it or to talk about it. It's not necessarily the way that it works.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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