Monday, January 19, 2009

Amped Up American Exceptionalism

Hi everyone. I have been out of town for a few days. I still have to catch up on my reading. But I caught this AP article from Big Tent Democrat over at TalkLeft:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to prohibit the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques by ordering the CIA to follow military rules for questioning prisoners, according to two U.S. officials
familiar with drafts of the plans. Still under debate is whether to allow exceptions in extraordinary cases.
The proposal Obama is considering would require all CIA interrogators to follow conduct outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the officials said. The plans would also have the effect of shutting down secret "black site" prisons around the world where the CIA has questioned terror suspects — with all future interrogations taking place inside American military facilities.
However, Obama's changes may not be absolute. His advisers are considering adding a classified loophole to the rules that could allow the CIA to use some interrogation methods not specifically authorized by the Pentagon, the officials said. They said the intent is not to use that as an opening for possible use of waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning.

A loophole? No, no no. More:

The CIA also banned waterboarding in 2006 but otherwise has been secretive about
how it conducts interrogations. In the past, its methods are believed to have
included sleep deprivation and disorientation, stress positions and exposing
prisoners to uncomfortable cold or heat for long periods. It's also believed
that some prisoners have been forced to sit in cramped spaces with bugs, snakes,
rats or other vermin as a scare tactic.

And this is completely illogical:

For Obama, who repeatedly insisted during the 2008 presidential campaign and the
transition period that "America doesn't torture," a classified loophole would
allow him to follow through on his promise to end harsh interrogations while
retaining a full range of presidential options in conducting the war against
The proposed loophole, which could come in the form of a classified annex to the manual, is designed to satisfy intelligence experts who fear that an outright ban of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques would limit the government in obtaining threat information that could save American lives. It would also preserve Obama's flexibility to authorize any interrogation tactics he might deem necessary for national security.

The conflict appears to be between Eric Holder and the John Brennans on Obama's team. Both are powerful:

Senate Democrats aren't likely to support a classified annex. Holder on Thursday
said the interrogation methods outlined in the Army manual would be just as
effective as those used by the CIA.
"I'm not convinced at all that if we restrict ourselves to the Army field manual that we will be in any way less effective in the interrogation of people who have sworn to do us harm," Holder said.

BTD makes a good point, borrowing from Glenn Greenwald: war crimes via loopholes are still...war crimes.

But I also find it interesting that the CIA wants to apply public pressure to so many aspects of Obama's policy, yet take none of the blame for the creation of that policy. John Brennan goes on TV and defends rendition - but he reassures the Obama team that he had nothing to do with "enhanced interrogation" policy construction, and they nod their heads in agreement. The CIA doesn't want to be investigated - they were just following orders (which as BTD says, does not excuse war crimes as per Article 2 - "3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture. . . ."). They nonetheless openly condone and put pressure on the Obama administration to continue torture and rendition. From the AP article:

Speaking with reporters Thursday, outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden said
harsh interrogation tactics have been needed to get information from the most
hardened terror suspects. He and some other U.S. intelligence
oppose limiting the CIA to the Army manual, which was written
specifically for military interrogations and may not be effective on the most
dangerous detainees.

"It is an honest discussion to talk about what techniques we should use,
but to assume automatically that the Army Field Manual would suit the needs of
the republic in all circumstances is a shot in the dark," Hayden said.
[emphasis mine]

Are we really supposed to believe that the U.S. intelligence community bears no culpability for the torture regime? Everytime Hayden, Brennan, and others open their mouth to cheerlead for the Bush administration's policies, they put the lie to that theory and suggest that things may've been more complicated than they seem.

Mark Lowenthal's B.S. is a little tired. And apparently Obama's hedging on This Week was intentional. If Obama somehow continues any aspect of the Bush torture regime, I would be hardpressed to see how pressure from the intelligence community was not largely to blame.

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