April 16, 2009


The Obama administration on Thursday released controversial memos outlining the legal rationale for interrogation techniques the Central Intelligence Agency used against terror suspects apprehended overseas, and vowed not to prosecute those that carried out what the administration described as "torture."

"It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Thursday's developments underscore a quandary of sorts the administration finds itself in -- even as President Barack Obama is to be commended for his transparency in his bid to distance himself from the policies of the Bush administration.

Even as the new president has renounced those Bush administration practices, Justice Department lawyers are defending the previous administration's top officials already accused of authorizing and carrying out those policies.

Bruce Fein, former deputy attorney general under Reagan and frequent critic of Bush policies:

President Obama has embraced the national security psychology of the Bush-Cheney duumvirate not only in matters of secrecy, but the entire range of civil liberties abuses justified by a purported global and endless war against international terrorism.

Indeed, Obama has invoked state secrets in litigation to conceal torture, extraordinary rendition, illegal surveillance, or arbitrary detentions that have given rise to private damages litigation against former government officials. He has claimed that Bagram prison in Afghanistan is a sanctuary for United States lawlessness. He has asserted that the entire world is a battlefield against terrorism; thus, drones can be fired without a judicial warrant to kill persons suspected of Al Qaeda membership on the President's say-so alone.

Like President Bush, he has issued a presidential signing statement claiming plenary power over the use of the American military. He has claimed authority to detain United States citizens as "enemy combatants" indefinitely without accusation or trial.

In sum, on national security and the war on terrorism, Obama has shown that the more things change, the more they stay the same, despite his adept semantical juggleries.

Glenn Greenwald has a far more generous reading:

I'll have more details as soon as these memos are available. One can certainly criticize Obama for vowing that no CIA officials will be prosecuted if they followed DOJ memos (though that vow, notably, does not extend to Bush officials), but -- assuming the reports about redactions are correct -- there is no grounds for criticizing Obama here and substantial grounds for praising him.

dday has more at Hullabaloo.

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