Monday, February 9, 2009

Falling Short: Panetta Wavers on Torture

Just a few weeks ago, liberals hailed the selection of Leon Panetta for Director of the CIA - mcjoan described him as "a[s] much of a departure from torture as you could want." It looked like the ticking time bomb hypothetical was on its way out. Obama at the announcement of Panetta for D/CIA said "We must adhere to our values as diligently as we protect our safety with no exceptions."

Unless, that is, someone asks us a hard question in a confirmation hearing.

Panetta said a few problematic things at his confirmation hearing - he suggested that in performing renditions, we will continue to "seek assurances" of humane detainee treatment from the third country receiving the detainee - a process that has been largely discredited (basically, if you render someone to Egypt, it is highly doubtful they will be treated humanely - as we know, John Brennan tried that line). Panetta also suggested prolonged detention for some detainees. But this is the comment I want to focus on. From The Guardian:

Pressed by Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon about a "human ticking time-bomb"
scenario, in which a terrorist knows of an imminent attack on the US, Panetta
said he believed torture would not be necessary to extract information.
"I'm of the view that when you look at the FBI and the US military, that they have
been able to show that it is possible to get the information that's needed to
protect our nation's security," he said.
However, he added: "If we had the ticking bomb situation and I felt that whatever we were using wasn't sufficient, I would not hesitate to go to the president and request any additional authority that we would need." [emphasis supplied]

"Would not hesitate!" "Any additional authority we would need." Hey, thank goodness our intelligence agencies are so thoroughly anti-torture and would never recommend something like that, huh? What Panetta said, IOW, is torture may not be necessary, but the door is open. To me, this isn't change. This makes the fear of loopholes in Obama's executive orders meaningful. For example, from his executive order Ensuring Lawful Interrogations:

c) Interpretations of Common Article 3 and the Army Field Manual. From
this day forward, unless the Attorney General with appropriate consultation
provides further guidance, officers, employees, and other agents of the United
States Government may, in conducting interrogations, act in reliance upon Army
Field Manual 2-22.3, but may not, in conducting interrogations, rely upon any
interpretation of the law governing interrogation -- including interpretations
of Federal criminal laws, the Convention Against Torture, Common Article 3, Army
Field Manual 2-22.3, and its predecessor document, Army Field Manual 34-52 --
issued by the Department of Justice between September 11, 2001, and January 20,
2009. [emphasis supplied]

This is what Panetta is referring to. In a letter to Sen. Leahy, former AG Michael Mukasey laid out the process by which waterboarding could be reapproved - the D/CIA would determine it was necessary, the AG would find it lawful or unlawful, and the President would have to approve. This process has apparently been kept in place by the Obama administration.

Something's got to give. That three people (and two of those political appointees of the President) can change the torture policy of the United States so freely is disturbing to me. I don't see how we end torture permanently with this process of legal authorization in place.

I wouldn't be so worried about it if Obama was more eager to prosecute Bush for dropping us in a moral abyss and instituting US torture policy. If arrest, investigation, and prosecution of Bush administration officials isn't in the cards, then there's no consequence for ordering torture, and no incentive to do otherwise. The road to breaking away from torture in a lasting, meaningful way is much more difficult if we let Bush off scot-free.

I wish Obama would realize this, and act accordingly.

[cross-posted at TalkLeft]

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