I Get Around

After you’re done with Daphne’s piece about legal tests for President Obama’s abandonment of torture, don’t miss Jane Mayer’s interview with White House counsel Greg Craig about the backstory to last week’s executive orders. Craig tells Mayer that the advocates for the new reviews of detentions and interrogations policy who made the biggest impact on Obama were a team of retired flag officers who’ve met with Obama over the course of 2007. Their arguments about torture being "the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough," in the words of ret. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton — one of the ringleaders of 2006’s so-called Generals Revolt against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, by the way — were compelling to a president taken with the idea of changing the terms of the foreign-policy debate, as were their arguments about torture’s potential blowback against U.S. troops who find themselves captured in the future.

The CIA, though? Not so much.

Across the Potomac River, at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, however, there was considerably less jubilation. Top C.I.A. officials have argued for years that so-called "enhanced" interrogation techniques have yielded life-saving intelligence breakthroughs. "They disagree in some respect," admitted Craig. Among the hard questions Obama left open, in fact, is whether the C.I.A. will have to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. While the President has clearly put an end to cruel tactics, Craig said that Obama "is somewhat sympathetic to the spies’ argument that their mission and circumstances are different."

Is that hard question really that open, though? The executive order on interrogation talks about a uniform government-wide standard on interrogation. Additionally, though, Mark Hosenball at Newsweek writes that there’s confusion over whether Craig told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee that Obama can exempt himself from his executive orders — that is, order an off-the-books torture session. (As opposed to going Jack Bauer on some hapless detainee himself.)

If this question is in fact open, it would contradict the central promise of the executive orders, as well as an assurance that Dennis Blair made to the Senate intelligence committee during his confirmation hearing to become director of national intelligence. Clearly, then, this is something to watch for as the cabinet-level policy review takes shape. As well, tomorrow is Leon Panetta’s confirmation hearing to become CIA director. Watch to hear whether he thinks there should be one government-wide uniform standard on interrogations — and, if not, what the arguments against it are.

Previous post

Cure Me Or Kill Me

Next post

Crappy Record-Keeping: A Feature, Not a Bug

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman