Obama: Reality Sets In

February 20, 2009

Reality Sets In


War On Terror: The Obama administration says it will employ some of the same harsh tactics George W. Bush used to fight terrorism. Has the president seen the light, or is this just window dressing?

Read More: Global War On Terror

During his confirmation hearings this month, Leon Panetta — the former Democratic California congressman who is President Obama’s nominee for CIA director — made a statement that would have outraged the most devoted Obama supporters last year had it been expressed as a campaign position.

If he found that interrogation techniques weren’t working at getting terrorist detainees to give up vital details of a plot to hit the U.S., Panetta as CIA head would ask for “additional authority,” he said. Panetta added that the CIA’s rendition program, in which captured suspects are taken to third countries for jailing and interrogation, might continue.

In the same vein, Solicitor General nominee Elena Kagan in her confirmation hearing last week echoed new Attorney General Eric Holder — and the Bush administration — in asserting that terrorists captured outside official combat zones should be treated under “battlefield law” and thus held without trial, as POWs traditionally have been during wartime.

Panetta was quick to characterize the controversial practice of waterboarding as illegal torture, and said he would accept diplomatic promises that detainees be treated well in third countries.

We seem to have something of a charade being conducted here by the president’s legal and national security team.

Consider the fact that “Imperial Hubris” author Michael Scheuer, who served as the CIA’s chief of the Bin Laden Issue Station from 1996 to 1999 and who rejoined the unit as a special adviser after the 9/11 attacks, calls the CIA’s rendition program “the single most effective counterterrorism operation ever conducted by the United States government.”

Scheuer, who retired in 2004, told Congress nearly two years ago, “Americans are safer today because of the program.”

That program, which has generated such bile against ex-President Bush, was in fact begun under Bill Clinton, for whom Panetta served as White House chief of staff.

According to Scheuer, the Clinton administration’s rule that the CIA “take each captured al-Qaida leader to the country which had an outstanding legal process for him . . . greatly restricted (the) CIA’s ability to confront al-Qaida because we could only focus on al-Qaida leaders who were wanted somewhere for a legal process.”

Scheuer added: “As a result, many al-Qaida fighters we knew of and who were dangerous to America could not be captured.”

He lauded the Bush administration for dropping that rule.

As to what would happen to terrorist detainees under the care of brutal foreign regimes, the Clinton administration “asked if (the) CIA could get each receiving country to guarantee that it would treat a person according to its own laws,” Scheuer noted.

But former President Clinton; his national security adviser, Sandy Berger; and his NSC counterterrorism adviser, Richard Clarke, have since 9/11 claimed they told the CIA that it had to get assurances from each receiving country that the prisoners would be treated under U.S. legal standards.

“To the best of my memory, that is a lie,” Scheuer testified.

Scheuer in a 2006 Washington Times article charged that because of their reluctance to close the deal in catching Osama bin Laden, “That trio, in my view, abetted al-Qaida. . . . Bill, Dick and Sandy helped to push Americans out of the windows of the World Trade Center on that September morning.”

Harsh words. Still, based on this congressional testimony from someone in a good position to know, the previous Democratic president was sending captured terrorist operatives to foreign lands, knowing they might be tortured, or close to it.

In altering the extraordinary rendition program so that U.S. personnel kept control of the suspects, the Bush administration in all likelihood made torture less of a possibility.

The ACLU is already upset at the Obama administration for continuing what it calls “some of the most problematic policies of the Bush presidency.”

Testimony from Panetta, Holder and Kagan suggest that the CIA and Justice Department may return to the Clinton shuffle.

We think the Bush record of perfectly protecting the homeland is more worthy of emulation.


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