The First Draft: mixing politics and national security?

August 31, 2009

HOMELAND SECURITYMixing politics with national security? Maybe under Obama, but not under Bush. Well, not exactly.

That summarizes Tom Ridge in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Former President George W. Bush’s first homeland security secretary took on the Obama administration’s controversial review of Bush-era interrogations and his own published worries about politics and the threat of terrorism.

Ridge was asked what he made of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s public assault against the decision by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to name a special prosecutor to look deeper into harsh Bush-era interrogations of captured terrorism suspects including accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times.

“I think he’s right, pure and simple,” Ridge told ABC.

In fact, the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania suggested the Justice Department investigation should itself be outlawed.

“To go back and investigate — criminally investigate — what these men were asked to do believing at the time that they were empowered to do it and it was consistent with the law, I think it’s wrong. It’s chilling and it’s inappropriate,” he said.

“To suggest four or five years later that what they did was criminal, I think that’s criminal,” Ridge said.

But Ridge, 64, tried to downplay the controversy sparked by his own upcoming book.

In his new book, “The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege,” Ridge says he worried that election politics might have motivated some top Bush administration officials to argue for a heightened threat level at the time.

“A lot of people are hyperventilating about that passage,” Ridge said.

“At the end of the day, I had to be absolutely sure that we’re on the right path. Process worked. We didn’t go up. And it was designed so that nobody could pressure anybody to do anything. A consensus was reached. We didn’t go up.”

But he didn’t take back the assertion that Bush’s political interests might have had a role in the discussion.

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Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Ridge announcing his resignation in 2004)

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