Monday, March 23, 2009

Giving the devil his due

Maybe not the devil, maybe more of an imp, but still....

I certainly went after the Obama administration for its - the adjective seems apt here - tortured defenses of presidential power, secrecy, rendition, and denial of rights to "detainees." There is very little sign of "change" in these matters. In fact, I may not have gone far enough, since during his confirmation hearings to be head of the CIA, Leon Panetta said the agency
could seek permission to use interrogation methods more aggressive than the limited menu that President Obama authorized under new rules issued last month. ...

Mr. Panetta said that in extreme cases, if interrogators were unable to extract critical information from a terrorism suspect, he would seek White House approval for the C.I.A. to use methods that would go beyond those permitted under the new rules.
In other words, we won't torture - unless we don't get what we want. We'll stick to the new rules - except when we don't. Things have changed - except where they haven't.

(Nor does it say much for the New! Improved! foreign policy that during that same appearance Panetta agreed with Sen. Evan "Don't You Wish I was My Dad" Bayh that there is "no question" but that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability even though Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Armed Services Committee a couple of weeks ago that
[t]he overall situation - and the intelligence community agrees on this - [is] that Iran has not decided to press forward ... to have a nuclear weapon on top of a ballistic missile....)
Still, it's important that credit be given where it's due and AttGen Eric Holder deserves praise for two weeks ago releasing those nine DOJ memos that showed how law and logic were twisted in the service of justifying torture.

More to the point here, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek reports that
[o]ver objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify - and publicly release - three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the "enhanced" interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against "high value" Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said the memos were "ugly"....

According to the administration official, ex-CIA director Michael Hayden was "furious" about the prospect of disclosure and tried to intervene directly with Obama officials. But the White House has sided with Holder.
Good for them, dammit, good for them.

An important point here, one noted by Isikoff and by Glenn Greenwald in his own comment on the news, is that this disclosure comes as the result of a years-long legal battle waged by the ACLU and the decision was made in the face of a court deadline in a FOIA suit brought by the group. (The ACLU appears to have issued no statement on the news, which is logical: They very likely want to wait until it actually happens or at least until a definite decision to declassify is announced by the White House.) Again, credit where it is due, yes? Even - perhaps especially - if it's not an exception.

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