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Obama and Torture

It seems that the lure of the dramatized version of reality presented by televised shows still works on politicians unfamiliar with actual facts on torture. Leon Panetta, the nominee about to be confirmed to head the C.I.A., a politician without … Read More

By / February 12, 2009

It seems that the lure of the dramatized version of reality presented by televised shows still works on politicians unfamiliar with actual facts on torture. Leon Panetta, the nominee about to be confirmed to head the C.I.A., a politician without experience in intelligence work, despite his statements condemning torture, has already stated that:

“If we had a ticking bomb situation, and obviously, whatever was being used I felt was not sufficient, I would not hesitate to go to the president of the United States and request whatever additional authority I would need.”

We’re back to the same debate, that only has its place during 24 on Fox, as McCain adequately remarked. Not only that, but in stark contrast to the promised “change,” we find ourselves wondering if President Obama is going to cover up some more the mistakes of the previous administration:

“On Monday, a Justice Department lawyer dispatched by Eric Holder, the new attorney general, appeared before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco. The case before them involves serious allegations of torture by five victims of President Bush’s extraordinary rendition program. The five were seized and transported to U.S. prisons abroad or to countries known for torturing prisoners.

Incredibly, the federal lawyer advanced the same expansive state-secrets argument that was pressed by Bush’s lawyers to get a trial court to dismiss the case without any evidence being presented. It was as if last month’s inauguration had never occurred.”

I’m not sure whether closing Guantanamo is or isn’t a good idea – what I’m certain about, though, is that we must watch this administration very carefully to make sure it doesn’t fudge the issue of torture. As McCain made clear during the campaign, and as I’ve already argued here, torture is very much of a definitional issue: the difference between us and our enemies is that they torture, we don’t.

And again, this is only a question for those that are not actually in the front lines: asking whether some political nominee would be prepared to request the authority to torture “if need be” is simply ignoring all that has been said by those that are actually in charge of questioning our enemies. The latest witness to this has been Donald P. Gregg, a veteran of the C.I.A. in wartime and former National Security Adviser to George Bush:

“The key to successful interrogation is for the interrogator – even as he controls the situation – to recognize a prisoner’s humanity, to understand his culture, background and language. Torture makes this impossible.”

 

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