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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Establishment Dicks

by digby

I've written before about the influence of uber-villagers like Stuart Taylor and how his noxious views on torture are likely to affect policy. And now we see the results of his handiwork. Yesterday, the Washington Post vomited up an egregiously one-sided pro-torture article in its news pages (effectively rebutted by Robert Parry, here.) Today, Taylor himself has a cover story on this week's Newsweek called "What Would Dick Do?, expanding on his earlier views that the president simply must be at least a little bit of a torturer (or perhaps a torturer only part of the time) in order to keep the babies safe. And he's joined by smarmy, super insider Evan Thomas in his assessment.

They are clearly appealing to every consensus seeking Democrat's propensity to always seek some way to appease Republicans, no matter what the issue:




President-elect Barack Obama was elected partly to reverse Vice President Dick Cheney’s efforts to seize power for the White House in the war on terror, but it may not be so simple, and Obama may soon find some virtue in Cheney’s way of thinking. In the January 19 Newsweek cover, “What Would Dick Do?” (on newsstands Monday, January 12), Contributing Editor Stuart Taylor Jr. and Editor-At-Large Evan Thomas argue that reversing Cheney’s efforts in the war on terror and national security may leave the country in a weakened position.

In the view of many intelligence professionals, the get-tough measures encouraged or permitted by George W. Bush’s administration-including “waterboarding” self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed-kept America safe. Cheney himself has been underscoring the point in a round of farewell interviews. “If I had advice to give it would be, before you start to implement your campaign rhetoric, you need to sit down and find out precisely what it is we did and how we did it, because it is going to be vital to keeping the nation safe and secure in the years ahead,” he told CBS Radio.

Obama, who has been receiving intelligence briefings for weeks, is unlikely to wildly overcorrect for the Bush administration’s abuses. A very senior incoming official, who refused to be quoted discussing internal policy debates, indicated that the new administration will try to find a middle road that will protect civil liberties without leaving the nation defenseless. But Obama’s team has some strong critics of the old order, including his choice for director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, who has spoken out strongly against coercive interrogation methods. Obama’s administration would do well to listen to Jack Goldsmith, formerly a Bush Justice Department official. Goldsmith worries about the pendulum swinging too far, as it often does in American democracy. “The presidency has already been diminished in ways that would be hard to reverse” and may be losing its capability to fight terrorism, he says. Goldsmith argues that Americans should now be “less worried about an out-of-control presidency than an enfeebled one.”

Soon after taking office Obama will face some difficult choices, such as what to do about the detention of suspected terrorists such as Ali al-Marri, a Qatari graduate student who had legally entered the United States and settled in Peoria, Ill., with his wife and five children. He was seized in 2001 as a suspected terrorist-the long-feared Qaeda sleeper agent, sent to the United States to conduct a suicide attack when given the signal by his terrorist controllers. Al-Marri was charged with credit-card fraud and lying to the Feds, but the charges were dropped when he was put in military detention. His case has become a cause célèbre among civil libertarians, who argue that the government can’t just lock you up indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism. Obama must decide: Will he enrage many of his supporters by adopting Bush’s claim of sweeping power to grab legal residents-and perhaps even citizens-and jail them forever? Or will he let a possibly very dangerous man go, and thereby concede that any Qaeda terrorist who can get into the United States legally is free to roam the country unless (and until) he commits a crime? Both options would be political nightmares.

Dealing with the issue of torture will also be complicated. Waterboarding is a brutal interrogation method, but by some (disputed) accounts, it was CIA waterboarding that got Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to talk. It is a liberal shibboleth that torture doesn’t work-that suspects will say anything, including lies, to stop the pain. But the reality is perhaps less clear. Last summer, the U.S. Senate (with Obama absent) voted to require the CIA to use no interrogation methods other than those permitted in the Army Field Manual. These are extremely restrictive: strictly speaking, the interrogator cannot ever threaten bodily harm or even put a prisoner on cold rations until he talks. Bush vetoed this measure, not unwisely. As president, Obama may want to preserve some flexibility. Obama may want to urge Congress to outlaw “humiliating and degrading” treatment of prisoners. But he might also want to carve out an exception for extreme cases, outlining coercive methods, like sleep deprivation, that could be used on specified detainees. To provide political accountability, the president should be required to sign any such orders, share them with the congressional intelligence committees and publicly disclose their number.

They've just successfully moved the goalposts. We are now engaged in a battle to persuade Obama that he must unequivocally and publicly disavow what those two jaded, decadent sadists just suggested was necessary lest he risk Americans being killed. Good luck to us on that. Considering Obama's propensity for consensus, I would guess that he will find some way to appease them. (Maybe he'll vow to make sure that the torturers don't enjoy it, as a sop to the liberal freaks.)

But I would suggest that Obama contemplate one little thing before he decides to try to find "middle ground" on torture. It is a trap. If he continues to torture in any way or even tacitly agrees to allow it in certain circumstances, the intelligence community will make sure it is leaked. They want protection from both parties and there is no better way to do it than to implicate Obama. And the result of that will be to destroy his foreign policy.

If the man who represents the second chance this country's been given around the world to repudiate the horrors of the Bush years is revealed to have perpetuated the same horrors, his credibility and foreign policy will be in shambles. And there are many people buried in the intelligence and military establishments who would be happy to make sure that happens.

Obama said today on Stephanopoulos that he doesn't want to look backwards but that Eric Holder could conceivably find something that must be prosecuted. (Good luck with those hearings, dude.) And he said that closing Guanatanamo was a difficult matter that would probably have to be dealt with by creating some new hybrid justice system. Of course, the Bush administration did that too with the military commissions, and they haven't exactly worked out too well. But hey, the people languishing in Gitmo for years can wait a few more for the next shiny new justice system to be proven useless too. No hurry there.

As Greenwald discusses today, Obama is doing what all Democrats in my adult lifetime have always done --- he is working as hard as he can to prove that he isn't captive to his left. (You would think that the fact that the left is the law and order faction on this issue would at least make some of them scratch their heads.) And he seems to be doing a good job of it --- even Pat Buchanan is effusive in his praise of Obama for making sure that everyone knows he isn't "Reverend Wright's man."

But I'm not sure that's what's required right now. The nation is confused and scared about their economic security. They are embarrassed and angry at what the Republicans did. In fact, it seems that I heard somebody recently talking about how they desperately wanted ... change. I guess that's a word that's open to interpretation, but it seems to me that it's at least possible that they meant they wanted Obama to change the policies of the Bush administration.