Kicking It Down The Road

By digby

More jockeying on torture:

Top Democrats on congressional intelligence panels could be heading for conflict with President-elect Barack Obama over interrogation policies, a subject over which they often clashed with President Bush.

Obama said earlier this year he supported legislation that would have mandated that the CIA and other agencies subscribe to a 2006 Army field manual’s guidelines on interrogation practices, which would have the effect of banning harsh treatment of detainees such as waterboarding. But some media reports have raised questions about whether Obama would use his executive powers to mandate the same interrogation standards once he is in the White House.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein , D-Calif., one of Congress’ leading proponents of banning harsh interrogation methods, is expected to take over the gavel at the Intelligence Committee.

“Sen. Feinstein intends to introduce legislation that would require America’s intelligence agencies to follow the Army field manual in interrogations; to prohibit the use of contractors in interrogations; to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross access to detainees; and to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility within one year,” said a spokesman, Phil LaVelle. “If President Obama accomplishes these goals through executive action, then we won’t need to pursue them legislatively as well.”

I wrote a few weeks back that I suspected that Gitmo could be Obama's "gays in the military" if it isn't handled correctly. It's guaranteed to inflame the right and there is reason to believe that the military and intelligence communities would freak out as well. It's very dangerous politically.
But it's absolutely imperative if Obama wants to change this country's foreign policy. If he is seen as dithering on this or gong back on his word, he will be squandering all of the tremendous good will he has going into his term and he's going to need every bit of it:

“While an executive order will not remove the need for legislation on the issue, it is a way for President-elect Obama to put an immediate halt to our government’s use of torture during interrogations and to prevent secret detentions,” said Holt, chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel. “By exercising his authority and acting quickly, he will begin to restore our moral leadership on the issue and repair some of the harm that has been done to our international reputation.”

There have been a few trial balloons about Obama backing off his promise to enforce the use of the Army Field Manual throughout the government. This article implies that he means to set an even higher standard, but the language from advisor John Brennan is downright Bushian:

“He [believes] torture not be allowed in any form or fashion in any part of the federal government, and he would make sure that was the case,” said John Brennan, who served under former CIA chief George J. Tenet in a variety of capacities at a time when the agency has since acknowledged it waterboarded a small number of terror suspects.

“Whether the Army field manual is comprehensive enough to cover all those tactics and techniques, that’s something I think he’d look to his national security advisers for,” Brennan said in an interview with CQ in August.

For more on Brennan, see Greenwald.

This is a difficult problem. Bringing the prisoners to US soil for trial is almost guaranteed to give the wingnuts a rallying cry and probably inspire a full blown hissy fit. But he cannot appoint a commission, wait to create a new system of justice or let it get bottled up in legislation. It is a deeply immoral nightmare that has to be dealt with quickly and cleanly or he risks all the global good will he has built up. Closing it is far more important than whether the right wing gets the vapors.

As I wrote earlier, the lesson of Clinton isn't that he went "too far left." It's that he didn't handle congressional egos or the media properly. If they really believe that he can't "go left" (defined as doing something that will make conservatives and the political establishment upset) and see a move like Feinstein's as something that has to be defeated, then they have learned the wrong thing from the Clinton experience and they are going to get rolled by the conservatives. Just like he did.

Think "General Betrayus" if you want a recent example of how the right wing hissy fit works and how Democrats react to it.