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Obama advisor tries to explain how waterboarding is bad but shooting an unarmed man in the face is OK

May 10, 2011 |  5:22 am

Tom Donilon with Obama 5-1-11

President Obama's national security advisor Tom Donilon emerged from within the White House compound's high walls this past week, as part of the administration's PR victory lap over the removal from the ranks of the living of Osama bin Laden a week before.

He appeared on several Sunday talk shows (Donilon, not Bin Laden).

On "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace," Donilon ran into the son of one of TV's most intrepid interrogators, Mike Wallace. Turns out, as many already knew, Chris is no slouch. In fact, he asked the question that many Americans hadn't realized they really wanted to hear answered.

As The Ticket likes to do, here is that complete exchange. The interview's entire transcript is available over here.

Let us know in the Comments below if you understood, buy or reject Donilon's response.

-- Andrew Malcolm

WALLACE: We'll all stipulate that bin Laden was a monster. But why is shooting....

...an unarmed man in the face legal and proper while enhanced interrogation, including waterboarding of a detainee under very strict controls and limits, why is that over the line?

DONILON: Well, let me talk first about the first half of the statement you made. Again, the president met with the operators yesterday in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. And here are the facts: we are at war with Al Qaeda. Usama bin Laden is the emir or commander, indeed, the only leader of Al Qaeda in its 22-year history. This was his residence and operational compound.

Our forces entered that compound and were fired upon in the pitch black. It's an organization that uses IEDs and suicide vests and booby traps and all manner of other kinds of destructive capabilities. (CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Let me just make my point.

DONILON: Yes.

WALLACE: I'm not asking you why it was OK to shoot Usama bin Laden. I fully understand the threat. And I'm not second-guessing the SEALs.

DONILON: Right.
Chris Wallace of Fox News Channel WALLACE: What I am second guessing is, if that's OK, why can't you do waterboarding? Why can't you do enhanced interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was just as bad an operator as Usama bin Laden?

DONILON: Because, well, our judgment is that it's not consistent with our values, not consistent and not necessary in terms of getting the kind of intelligence that we need.

WALLACE: But shooting bin Laden in the head is consistent with our values?

DONILON: We are at war with Usama bin Laden.

WALLACE: We're at war with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

DONILON: It was a military operation, right? It was absolutely appropriate for the SEALs to take the action -- forced it to take the action that they took in this military operation against a military target.

WALLACE: But why is it inappropriate to get information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

DONILON: I didn't say it was inappropriate to get information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

WALLACE: You said it was against our values. (CROSSTALK)

DONILON: I think the technique -- there's been a policy debate about and our administration has made our views known on that.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about one other aspect of this and we'll move on. The Obama Justice Department reopened an investigation of a half dozen CIA agents who were involved in interrogation after 9/11, raising the question -- and this has been a closed... This has been a closed investigation. It was reopened by your Justice Department on the issue of whether or not they were using undue force.

We talked earlier with Vice President Cheney who says that investigation is an outrage.

Question: with interrogation -- and you certainly have agreed, whether, however it came -- with interrogation such a key part of this raid, why not end that investigation?

DONILON: Well, what I said was the interrogation is one part of a mosaic --

WALLACE: Right.

DONILON: -- of hundreds of pieces of information over time that builds an intelligence case. I think it's very -- and it was not just the CIA. It was multiple agencies -- which is another important aspect that we don't have time to get into. It's the teamwork in the intelligence community.

WALLACE: But why not end the investigation?

DONILON: Well, I'll get to it now. That's not something I can really comment on. That really is an issue for the attorney general. I'm a national security adviser, not the attorney general. I'm not a law enforcement officer.

WALLACE: Do you think keeping these officers who helped protect the country, the CIA officers, continued investigation -- this has been going on for more than two years. A year ago, Eric Holder said it's about over and it's still going on. Do you think that's appropriate?

DONILON: Chris, I work as closely with the intelligence community as anybody in the White House, as you know. And I have the highest regard for our intelligence professionals. They have -- we have seen in the last week, one of the really great achievements in the history of intelligence.

DONILON: I have the highest regard and I am quite familiar with the tenacity and the skill with which this case was put together. But on this specific case, I really can't comment. I'm not a law enforcement official.....   ####

 -- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Pete Souza / White House (Obama, left, and Donilon); Dennis Brack / Fox News (Wallace).

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