Politics

Sister of 9/11 victim presses Obama on ending investigation into CIA interrogators

It’s a rare day when President Barack Obama’s escort of flacks, spinners and deputies let their guard down. At Thursday’s 9/11 commemoration in New York, Debra Burlingame used one of those fleeting opportunities to directly ask the president to halt a two-year federal inquisition of the CIA interrogators who helped reveal Osama bin Laden’s fatal hiding-place.

“He said it defiantly. ‘No, I will not,’ and turned and walked away,” she said.

Burlingame’s coup is stoking Republicans’ calls for Obama to halt the investigation. On Sunday, former Vice President Dick Cheney called the investigation an “outrage.” House Republicans are also incensed by the investigation, and GOP activists see an issue they believe will show voters how the administration is too accommodating towards the nation’s enemies.

Burlingame is one of the many family members who were invited to meet the president during his televised tour of downtown New York. She was invited because the five jihadis on Flight 77 murdered her pilot-brother and then steered the aircraft and its passengers into the Pentagon, killing 59 passengers and crew, and 125 soldiers and civil-servants. That trauma made her into a citizen-activist. Since then, she’s used the Internet, her expanding number of supporters and her organization — 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America — to investigate jihadi-related security lapses and to promote better security policies. She’s pushed hard against policies championed by George W. Bush and Obama, especially Obama’s investigation of the CIA interrogators.

The New York meeting was advertised by an administration official as the president’s effort to bring “ closure” to the relatives of the dead. It was “almost like a cocktail party where people were standing in small clusters, and the president came over. He was getting hugged [by invitees], and people are thanking him, and holding hands,” Burlingame told The Daily Caller.

“I must say he’s very compelling, he comes across as very charismatic, as a real guy, ordinary in his demeanor. There’s nothing formal about the way he approaches people, and…he’s got this charming manner, this wonderful manner, and he looks you in the eye and seems sincere,” she said.

“I dreaded going to this thing…but it was a tactical opportunity that he could not prevent,” she said. “This was an opportunity to do right by the [CIA] case officers, and also [to help] the future of intelligence community and our ability to get intelligence,” she said.

Some months before September 2009, Obama’s Department of Justice reopened a closed investigation into the legality of tough interrogation techniques used by several CIA officers during the Bush administration. The techniques included ‘water-boarding,’ in which prisoners are forced to undergo an ordeal of simulated drowning.

Water-boarding was used on only a few prisoners, and it successfully broke the morale of leading jihadis, including KSM, or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the primary organizer of the 9/11 atrocity. Once broken, those jihadis willingly spilled numerous secrets, including the existence and nickname of bin Laden’s personal courier. That nickname was a critical step in a long journey through Iraq and Kuwait’s phone network to the prosperous town of Abbottabad, Pakistan where bin Laden was living in a compound.

The interrogation technique was as controversial as it was effective.