Barack Obama preens, and garners this sort of headline: “Sources: Obama ready to ban harsh interrogations”:
President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to prohibit the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques by ordering the CIA to follow military rules for questioning prisoners, according to two U.S. officials familiar with drafts of the plans.
Of course, there is one very big catch:
However, Obama’s changes may not be absolute. His advisers are considering adding a classified loophole to the rules that could allow the CIA to use some interrogation methods not specifically authorized by the Pentagon, the officials said. …
For Obama, who repeatedly insisted during the 2008 presidential campaign and the transition period that “America doesn’t torture,” a classified loophole would allow him to follow through on his promise to end harsh interrogations while retaining a full range of presidential options in conducting the war against terrorism.
The proposed loophole, which could come in the form of a classified annex to the manual, is designed to satisfy intelligence experts who fear that an outright ban of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques would limit the government in obtaining threat information that could save American lives. It would also preserve Obama’s flexibility to authorize any interrogation tactics he might deem necessary for national security.
Now, that’s “change you can believe in!” Obama’s hypocrisy on this issue is identical to John McCain’s. McCain denounced the Bush administration for “torturing” detainees. I disagree. I don’t think waterboarding is torture; on the contrary, I think it is the ideal way to interrogate terrorists because it is quick and effective and because it does not actually harm them. I see it as a humane alternative to much worse techniques. But that’s not the point, at the moment.
When McCain was asked what he would do in the “ticking time bomb” situation, where we have in our custody a terrorist with knowledge of plots in progress that may kill Americans, his response was that in that case, he would expect the President to do whatever was necessary. That is exactly the position Obama is now taking: we won’t torture detainees. Unless, of course, we need to!
All of this might make some kind of sense if you assume that the Bush administration had a nasty habit of hauling terrorists (or Democrats, maybe) off the street for no particular reason, and waterboarding them. In fact, though, a total of three top-ranking al Qaeda terrorists were waterboarded, in the period shortly after September 11 when there was good reason to believe that they had knowledge of plots that were still active. This was exactly the “ticking time bomb” scenario where McCain has explicitly admitted, and Obama now implicitly agrees, “torture,” or harsh interrogation tactics anyway, may be necessary.
In short, Obama’s posturing is meaningless and politically motivated. His policy will not be any different from President Bush’s; he is just trying to score cheap political points. Obama is no dummy, and is acutely aware of the Bush administration’s extraordinary record of keeping us safe from terrorist attacks over the last seven years. He knows that his approval rating will sink like a stone if he exposes Americans to mass murder because of a foolish consideration for the comfort of terrorists. If and when the time comes, he will act exactly as George Bush did.
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