Monday, March 30, 2009

'The Post' on Obama's Torture 'Fine Print'

Yesterday's Washington Post rightly takes on Dick Cheney's claim that the new administration's revised torture policies, "raise the risk to the American people of another attack."

But curiously, instead of challenging the morality or usefulness of torture, the Post seeks to quell torture enthusiasts by asserting President Obama really hasn't changed much:
But to get a get full picture of the Obama approach, you have to read the fine print of the executive orders -- and also what they didn't say.

First, Obama hasn't banned the process known as "extraordinary rendition." This technique has been used by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies for more than 30 years to seize people overseas, either unilaterally or with permission of the host country, and take them somewhere else for interrogation and possible judicial action. That authority hasn't changed, nor has the CIA's ability to work with foreign intelligence services that are interrogating terrorist suspects.

The executive orders propose a new task force that will "study and evaluate the practices of transferring individuals to other nations" to ensure that such transfers don't send prisoners to countries where they would "face torture." Although the CIA secret detention facilities are being closed, the order notes that this doesn't refer to "facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis." The order doesn't define "short-term" or "transitory."

"Rendition is still permitted," said Leon Panetta, the new CIA director, in a Feb. 25 meeting with reporters.

Not only does renditioning remain, but former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith, who helped craft the new administration's policy, indicates that all bets are off in the case of the infamous ticking-time-bomb scenario:
In drafting the new policy on interrogation, Obama and his advisers recognized that there could be extraordinary situations -- say, a suspect with information about nuclear terrorism -- where the president could decide to waive the executive order banning harsh techniques. "Everybody understands that if the nation faces a severe threat, the president can do what's needed to protect us. But he has to explain it. The problem with Bush was doing it all in secret, which leads to abuse," argues Smith.