It's realistic, not cynical, to assume political entities generally act out of their own self-interests. And political self-interests are what the CIA memos are really about.
The oldest declassified CIA memo is from 2002, the youngest from 2005. So one question is about timing. Why now? Another is about content. What do they offer that's new?
The bulk of material can be grouped under two headings: (1) Elaborate lawyerly parsing of legal terms (like "shocks the conscience") coupled with citations of case law; and, (2) redundant descriptions of enhanced interrogation techniques. The most controversial technique, waterboarding, is a rehash of what we've heard before, and often. It was only used on three high-value captives. The less aggressive techniques won't make headlines, unless a fraternity uses one to haze a pledge and someone dies accidently.
The explanations for, and consequences of, publishing the documents spin in two directions.
David Axelrod says is all about Obama respecting the law and being transparent. He called releasing the documents a "weighty decision" that took Obama weeks to make as he balanced two principles. "One is ... the sanctity of covert operations ... and keeping faith with the people who do them, and the impact on national security, on the one hand. And the other was the law and his belief in transparency." ("A wise ruler ought never to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interests." Niccolo Machiavelli)
The Beltway use of "transparent" is similar to "robust." Just saying the word is intended to summon the reality of its meaning. A self-actualizing language event.
Political opponents say releasing the documents threatens national security. Any enemy now knows the protocol and self-imposed limits of our most aggressive interrogation methods and can train against them. The documents offer a ready-made outline for an Interrogation Resistance Class.
But it's been over seven years since 9/11. Each day since without a homeland attack brings us closer to complacent. The national defense argument won't get the traction it deserves.
Self-described neutral pundits (e.g., FOX's Bill O'Reilly) say Obama is playing to the Leftwing of his base. But Obama has no need to do that now. Grumble as they might, they're firmly entrenched in his camp and aren't likely to shift their support to, say, Ron Paul.
So all the yin yang to date hasn't told us what this is about. Here's another option:
It's about controlling the news cycle, putting opponents on the defensive, and diverting attention away from other, more-timely battles underway. We recently witnessed a similar tactic.
The release of the Department of Homeland Security's "rightwing extremism" report, dated April 7, offered the MSM a counterpoint to frame their minimum coverage of the April 15 Tea Parties. The protesters were portrayed as non-violent expressions of rightwing extremism. The transparent intent behind releasing the DHS report a week before the protests was to preemptively diminish their impact.
Today, inside the Beltway, there are serious debates involving trillions of dollars and federal programs that will effect America for generations. Oxygen that might fuel coverage of those debates is being diverted to topics like the use of dietary manipulation in interrogating al-Qaida operatives, years ago.
It's all about misdirection of public attention, and all sides of the media are conscious, or unconscious, facilitators of the ploy choreographed from inside the Obama administration. (Including me herein.)
Most Americans won't take the time to download the CIA material and wade through it. If they did, many would say, "So this is what all the commotion is about?"
Days ago, three Somali pirates held an American captive for ransom and threatened his life. The President ordered them shot through their respective heads. Small hole going in, big one coming out. Even though Somali pirates have never harmed an American seaman, it was the right decision.
Years ago, the CIA used several enhanced interrogation techniques on 28 captives from an organization that killed thousands of American civilians. When in CIA custody, the al-Qaida detainee would face an interrogator...
"...positioned directly in front of the detainee, generally no more than 18 inches from the detainee. With his fingers held tightly together and fully extended, and with his palm toward the interrogator's own body, using his elbow as a fixed pivot point, the interrogator slaps the detainee in the detainee's abdomen. The interrogator may not use a fist, and the slap must be delivered above the navel and below the sternum. This technique is used to condition a detainee to pay attention to the interrogator's questions and to dislodge expectations that the detainee will not be touched. It is not intended to-and based on experience you have informed us that it does not-inflict any injury or cause an significant pain. Medical and psychological personnel are physically present or otherwise observing whenever this technique is applied." (May 10, 2005 memo stamped 0000013, p.11)
Head shot, to save a life, versus tummy slaps, to save multiple lives.
The question is, away from what is our attention being diverted?