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November 14, 2008

Torture – Yes We Can?


Obama and the national security question: the sellout accelerates

by Justin Raimondo

Most politicians wait at least until they've been sworn in before they start breaking their campaign promises. In this sense, as in so many others, Barack Obama represents an entirely new phenomenon: the politician who preemptively reneges.

A recent Wall Street Journal piece describing the transition process as it relates to intelligence-gathering reveals we aren't going to see much change in this vitally important realm, the one in which the Bush administration truly made its blackest mark. This will "create tension within the Democratic party," we are told, apparently because even the worst party hacks will have a hard time going along with the revised Obama Doctrine on the issue of torture.

According to the Journal, Obama's advisors on intelligence matters are "centrists" in the Clinton mold and outright Republicans, who favor torture "with oversight." These, we are told, are the "pragmatists," likely candidates for positions in Obama's national security bureaucracy. "He's going to take a very centrist approach to these issues," avers Roger Cressey, who served as a counter-terrorism official under Clinton as well as Bush II.

It's a grotesque commentary on the moral health of the nation when advocacy of torture is considered "centrist." One shudders to imagine what it means to be right-of-center.

A big problem for the pro-torture faction of Team Obama, however, is their Leader's pronouncements on this subject during the campaign, when he came out unequivocally against "'enhanced interrogation techniques' like simulated drowning that qualify as torture through any careful measure of the law or appeal to human decency."

Human decency and government, however, are opposites in a dichotomy. Now that the Obama-ites have the power, all the pious rhetoric and self-righteousness of the Bush-hating Obama-loving "progressives" falls by the wayside, like so much confetti, to be swept up and trashed the morning after the election. It's an old story, but true – and yet with a rather grotesque twist that is all too indicative of the age we live in.

After all, we are talking about torture, here, the apotheosis of barbarism – and the signature issue of the sort of limousine liberals who just adore the Dear Leader, and wouldn't think of criticizing him in public, especially this early on. This betrayal is a real slap in the face to these people, and one wonders if it will sting enough to provoke a reaction.

So how will Obama's cheerleaders square this circle, and reconcile his campaign pronouncements with the emerging reality? The Journal avers that, just as he said he was against providing immunity to telecom companies that permitted illegal spying on thousands of Americans, yet voted for it, so he could finesse the torture issue in an all too familiar fashion:

"The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight."

The elastic Obama doll is stretching to the breaking point – but, then again, everybody has their own breaking point. Mine came well before this, it's true, but surely such a slimy attempt to slink around the black-and-white issue of torture has got to shock Obama's supporters, many of whom, I realize, are big fans of this web site.

In the mainstream media and its blogospheric extensions, Obama's loyal partisans have so far confined themselves to ordinary apologetics: touting Rahm Emanuel's "toughness" while ignoring his pro-war pro-DLC bias as head of the party's national congressional campaign committee, and mumbling "Brent Scowcroft" under their breath in explaining away the likelihood of Robert Gates staying on at Defense. How will they spin the persistence of Jack Bauer in Obama-World?

Oh well, that's their problem. Ours' is finding out who's behind all this, and figuring out how to stop it. In this regard, the Journal informs us:

"The intelligence-transition team is led by former National Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan and former CIA intelligence-analysis director Jami Miscik, say officials close to the matter. Mr. Brennan is viewed as a potential candidate for a top intelligence post. Ms. Miscik left amid a slew of departures from the CIA under then-Director Porter Goss."

Who are these people? Well, go here if you want to see a dress rehearsal for Obama's climb-down on torture, given by Brennan in an interview last year, in which he agrees that waterboarding, for example, is torture, and "should be prohibited," but then comes back and says:

"There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has, in fact, used against the real hardcore terrorists. It has saved lives. And let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the death of 3,000 innocents."

So which is it – to torture or not to torture?

Brennan, by the way, is the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, a former deputy executive director of the CIA, and is being talked about as a leading candidate for CIA chief. He is also CEO of the Analysis Corporation, a company that employs many former intelligence officials: it was an employee of Analysis, you'll remember, who was caught prying into the passport records of prominent persons – including Obama and John McCain. The company insisted at the time that the whole affair was an "isolated incident." And now their CEO is in the running for CIA chief. Welcome to Bizarro World – please check your hat, and your rationality, at the door.

As for Ms. Miscik, none other than she was in charge of intelligence analysis in 2002, when the big debate about Iraq's alleged "weapons of mass destruction" reached its crescendo, and the War Party was howling that Al Qaeda and Iraq were working hand-in-hand. Both these fantasies were pushed by Miscik, who outflanked the CIA's Mideast directorate and handed the job of intelligence assessment over to her compliant flunkies within the "counterrorism" community. A two-year old piece in Salon by Spencer Ackerman describes Miscik's role:

"CIA analysts prepared a report titled ‘Iraq and al-Qaida: Assessing a Murky Relationship.' Or at least a few of them did. Circulated that June, as the administration sought rationales for an invasion of Iraq, the report excluded the assessments of the agency's Near East and South Asia (NESA) office, which generally cast doubt on either an existing or a prospective alliance between Saddam and Osama bin Laden. The paper was chiefly the product of the CIA's terrorism analysts, who explained that their approach was ‘purposefully aggressive in seeking to draw connections, on the assumption that any indication of a relationship between these two elements could carry great dangers.' Jami Miscik, the CIA's deputy director for intelligence, told Senate Intelligence Committee investigators that the paper was intended to ‘stretch to the maximum the evidence you had.' The exclusion of NESA prompted an inquiry by the agency's ombudsman into politicization."

A profile of Miscik in Fortune documenting her career change from CIA to Wall Street, published in the summer of 2007, avers

"Ex-CIA Intelligence Chief Jami Miscik was wrong about WMD in Iraq. But in her new career, Lehman Brothers depends on her to say where it's safe to put billions. An exclusive tale of intrigue and redemption"!

From George Tenet's CIA to Lehman Brothers – from intellectual bankruptcy to financial bankruptcy – in a year's time is a narrative of daunting consistency, albeit not one that bodes well for the competence of the incoming administration.

This just isn't about torture: it's about how we gather intelligence, and to what end. Brennan and Miscik are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Far more important than whether Joe Lieberman is allowed to keep his chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee is whether these two are going to be allowed to determine the shape of intelligence policy for the next four years.

You aren't hearing about any of this from the "mainstream" news media and the left-wing of the blogosphere – with certain stellar exceptions – because of the red-state/blue state mindset that still persists, in spite of Obama's explicit rejection of the "old politics." MSNBC, for example, has turned into a blue state version of Fox News, with its openly adulatory "reporting" on the Obama transition, and systematic denigration of the President-elect's critics. Don't expect to see the torture issue brought up by Rachel Maddow – and Keith Olbermann would rather join a Trappist monastery than utter one word about it.

That's why Antiwar.com's continued survival is so important – and why the fundraising campaign, which we launched a couple of days ago, and which is still lagging far behind its goal, is such a crucial test. We are going against the tide in raising these concerns, and we know it – yet someone has to speak truth to power, and that's our job, after all. It always has been.

We're paying a price for our apostasy, however, and that's evident in the lagging thermometer that shows how much money we've raised so far. The Obama fan club, you can be certain, has bombarded us with letters of protest, objecting to "attacks" on their hero, and vowing not to give us a penny.

Well then, so be it. We're standing up for principle – and the principle of no torture under any circumstances is not negotiable.

It is indicative of the emerging problem with Obama and his advisors that this has even come up at all. It's a moral question that cannot be finessed, or slithered around. Torture – you're either for it, or agin' it, and here's no two ways about it.

The re-emergence of the torture issue is indicative of Obama's chief weakness, and that is a weakness of character – his indecisiveness. Combined with his seemingly innate caution, this tendency could be paralyzing – and will certainly be a major obstacle in the way of any significant change.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Our fundraising campaign is now going into its fifth day, and the results, as I noted above, have been disappointing. How much of this is due to our editorial stance questioning Obama's bona fides and his judgement when it comes to making key appointments, and how much can be attributed to the collapse of the American economy, is hard to tell. Probably the latter is the major factor, with the former not helping in the least. However, we have no choice but to press on – for as long as it takes to meet our fundraising goal.

You see, we operate on a very tight budget. There are no frills, and no prima donnas, in the Antiwar.com office. Every penny goes toward the continuation of our work, and we're penurious to a fault. It's hard work, and rewarding in a way that has nothing to do with finances.

As a job, this can only be described as grueling. We operate 24/7, because the War Party never sleeps. We sift through the news, and tirelessly separate fact from fiction, so you don't have to – or, at any rate, we do the research so our readers can draw their own conclusions.

All that work has paid off. We were right about so many things that it becomes tiresome, and slightly embarrassing, to list them: the Scooter Libby affair, Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction," Iraq's "links" to Al Qaeda that turned out to be entirely bogus. The whole kit-n-kaboodle of "intelligence" pushed by the War Party and its minions in the government was a lie, from beginning to end, and that is exactly how we reported it.

Now the same serial liars are trying to insinuate themselves into the Obama administration – and doing a rather effective job of infiltration. It's the kind of story you won't read anywhere else – except right here at Antiwar.com.

That's why we're a valuable asset you can't afford to lose, and that's why you need to reach deep – and I mean really deep! – down in your pockets and make that contribution right now, before you forget. Because America still needs a conscience – and you know it. Contribute today.

 

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  • Jorge Hirsch is a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego.

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