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At Many Levels, Obama Reaffirms Bush Admin’s Commitment to Detainee Abuse

Dep. Asst. Sec'y. for Detainee Affairs William Lietzau (photo: US Dept. of Defense)

We learn from Spencer Ackerman this morning that yet another top Bush administration official formerly associated with development of torture policies is to be appointed to a position in the Obama administration. The new deputy assistant secretary for detainee affairs is to be William Lietzau, who “previously served as a special adviser to Jim Haynes, the top Pentagon lawyer during Donald H. Rumsfeld’s tenure, when Rumsfeld and Haynes codified torture and indefinite detention as hallmarks of Bush-era terrorism policy.” Ackerman provides an extended discussion on the choice of Lietzau, finding many willing to comment on his energy and abilities as a lawyer, but also notes that there are those who are puzzled that the first architect of the Guantanamo military commissions and a deputy to Haynes, one of the primary developers of torture policy, would be chosen for this important position. I find this passage to be the most important characterization of Lietzau:

Both Guter and Romig, the former senior military JAGs who clashed with Lietzau’s old boss, Haynes, independently described Lietzau as intellectually “flexible” and willing to faithfully implement the policies of his bosses. “The guy is smart, so he can figure out what the Supreme Court has said” about the due process rights to which detainees are entitled, but “it troubles me the guy can go from one end of spectrum to the other, arguably,” Romig said. “It’s very curious they would take somebody to run [policy on] detainees who was in the position he was in seven or eight years ago.”

Lietzau is known to be “intellectually flexible” in implementing the policies of those to whom he reports, but as Romig points out, it’s hard to imagine someone now committing to a course that should be diametrically opposed to his previous work. Romig’s dilemma goes away, however, if Lietzau is being brought into his new position to continue policies with very little difference from those of Bush. Adding Lietzau to the existing lineup of Obama administration officials with roles in the war in Afghanistan, detainee policy or the “war on terrorism”, it becomes clear that Obama has chosen to continue the worst of Bush’s policies of detainee abuse.

The commitment starts at the top, with the horribly wrong choice of Stanley McChrystal to command our forces in Afghanistan. The McChrystal decision was preceded by putting John Brennan into a senior position at the National Security Council after his candidacy to head the CIA was ruined by his association with torture.

Note also the shaky denial of continued secret prisons in Afghanistan by McChrystal’s hand-picked head of detainee policy in Afghanistan and the shell game the US is playing with Afghan prisons in advance of increased detentions that will result from the surge.

Taken together, the lineup of personnel who will generate new detainees and the policies under which they will be detained is running our country headlong into the warning from the recent UN special report on secret prisons:

Secret detention at the same time amounts to an enforced disappearance. If resorted to in a widespread or systematic manner secret detention might reach the threshold of a crime against humanity.

Obama’s detainee team is now composed of all-stars from the worst Bush offenses. How are we to expect anything other than continued secret detention and abuse? Where is Dawn Johnsen? What is the real reason for Phil Carter’s (the previous deputy assistant secretary for detainee affairs) resignation?

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