Hayden was deeply skeptical of Obama (for some combination of what Hayden saw as hypocrisy and naiveté), aggressive in his defense of Bush-era detention and interrogation programs, and strikingly candid in describing his role and the depth of his support for the CIA’s involvement in these endeavors. It seems worthwhile briefly summarizing his remarks in sense and sensibility here.
To some extent, the speech’s greatest rhetorical flourishes were phrases we’ve heard before. As Hayden described, he set his course according to the CIA’s “vision statement” that “ye’ shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Our counterterrorism efforts require the engagement of “rough men,” the ones who make it possible for us (as Orwell, and then Churchill, and later, Jack Nicholson, put it) to “sleep safely at night because [they] stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us,” and who (this is Hayden now) “go where others cannot go, and do what others cannot accomplish.” This conflict is especially novel in its needs for such “rough men” because our enemy this time doesn’t follow the Geneva Conventions, and because we can’t, as Hayden put it, “define who the enemy is.” Thus, what we need are men willing to get “chalk on their cleats” in walking at the edge of the boundaries set by the law on detention, interrogation, etc.
It was difficult to take notes without editorializing. I had thought, for example, that many of our past enemies had also failed to abide by the Geneva Conventions. (The Vietcong comes to mind.) I’m likewise not sure how it is one wages a war without knowing, with at least some specificity, who the enemy is. The football metaphor was at least familiar from Hayden’s previous public statements. But I hadn’t fully understood that in Hayden’s version of the game, the object seems to be all unrelated to, say, scoring a touchdown, but is rather more about getting chalk on one’s cleats as a matter of first principles.
Confronted as CIA Director with the courts’ increasingly vigorous engagement on these questions, Hayden was scathing in his criticism of Justice Stevens and his opinion for the Court in Hamdan. That case of course held, among other things, that Common Article 3 applied in the armed conflict with Al Qaeda, at least as it played out (as CA3 puts it) “in the territory of” Afghanistan. In response to this and other judicial decisions, Hayden recounted encouraging his subordinates to buck up: “We’ve been kicking their asses in FATA [describing the volatile tribal region in the northwest of Pakistan], we’re going to kick their asses here too” in the habeas cases the courts allowed to proceed.
As for the use of interrogation techniques the U.S. authorized (techniques CA3 would seem to prohibit), from slapping prisoners to waterboarding, Hayden expressed the view that he believes those actions lawful, and indeed that it would have been “selfish” for him not to support such measures being taken. For then he would have been putting his own personal concerns (namely, it seemed, a fear that one might later be held legally liable for such actions) above those of the nation. “Democracies cannot wage war over the long term on the basis of strict legalisms,” he said.
In 2009, Pearlstein--along with Gabor Rona, Edwin D. Williamson, Benjamin Wittes, William Kristol, and Dean A. Reuter--participated in a FedSoc panel discussion on "Preventing Attacks through Interrogation and Transfer of Terrorist Suspects". You can watch the video here.