Greenwald and Talk Left have been sounding some small alarms about Obama's intelligence advisor John Brennan and it's definitely something to keep a close eye on. I've speculated before that the intelligence community is going to put a lot of pressure on the new administration to endorse some form of torture and pledge to "get their backs" if they are caught. And if they don't get their way, they can cause a lot of trouble.
Greenwald's post today points out that Brennan has said that he doesn't believe in waterboarding, which is good. And he thinks there should be more debate about all this, which is also good. But there is plenty of evidence that he's in favor of rendition, warrantless wiretapping and although he's obviously not comfortable with the way that the Bush administration went about this business, as Greenwald points out in his addendum:
The most incriminating aspect of Brennan's views, in my opinion, is his support for the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques." Since he says he opposes waterboarding and isn't on record opposing anything else, one can reasonably assume that must include some combination of things like stress positions, forced nudity, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, exploitation of paranoias, extreme isolation, hanging by the wrists, threats, and other previously forbidden techniques authorized by the Bush administration.
I'm not trying to get ahead of myself. But Brennan is being talked up as the replacement for Michael McConnell and that's potentially problematic. If Obama comes out and explicitly says that there will be no more use of the techniques Greenwald lists, or anything else that can be construed as torture, and makes sure that his subordinates know he means exactly that, then I'm not quite as worried about the effects of this on foreign policy. But if he tries to split the baby or compromise on it, then he will automatically lose a huge portion of his moral authority both at home and abroad.
They could just go back to secretly torturing and spying as the government did in the past, but after all this --- and the political ramifications if it got out --- let's hope not. And anyway, that's not what the intelligence types want. They want immunity for torture (excuse me, "enhanced interrogation") and they want it to be public. I don't think there's any going back.
Torture is not negotiable and it can't be redefined or "smoothed out" or anything else. This one is a bright line. I give Obama the benefit of the doubt at this point, of course --- nothing's been announced. But I'm nervous. The institutional pressure is going to be acute and I'm not reassured by the presence of people like John Brennan. The fact that he isn't as bad as Dick Cheney just isn't good enough.