Obama reserving the right to torture? Non-denial denial from White House (UPDATED)
by ryeland, Thu May 21, 2009 at 10:58:21 PM EDT
I don't have any desire to write an "Obama=Bush" diary and that's not what this is. But I think it's important to point out that the White House has failed to deny one of the most outrageous accusations leveled by Dick Cheney in his speech Thursday morning. And I find it more than a little disturbing.
Dick Cheney's indictment of Obama:
President Obama has reserved unto himself the right to order the use of enhanced interrogation should he deem it appropriate. What value remains to that authority is debatable, given that the enemy now knows exactly what interrogation methods to train against, and which ones not to worry about. Yet having reserved for himself the authority to order enhanced interrogation after an emergency, you would think that President Obama would be less disdainful of what his predecessor authorized after 9/11. It's almost gone unnoticed that the president has retained the power to order the same methods in the same circumstances. When they talk about interrogations, he and his administration speak as if they have resolved some great moral dilemma in how to extract critical information from terrorists. Instead they have put the decision off, while assigning a presumption of moral superiority to any decision they make in the future.
(i) to study and evaluate whether the interrogation practices and techniques in Army Field Manual 2 22.3, when employed by departments or agencies outside the military, provide an appropriate means of acquiring the intelligence necessary to protect the Nation, and, if warranted, to recommend any additional or different guidance for other departments or agencies...
If so, Cheney's not the first to make this argument. But perhaps because I've been struggling desperately lately not to jump to the worst conclusions about where Obama is headed on interrogation and detention policies, I agreed with Roth that:
...[S]tudying whether there's a need for other means is a different thing from "reserv[ing] unto himself the right to order the use of enhanced interrogation should he deem it appropriate," as Cheney put it. But the former veep isn't known to let those kind of nuances get in the way of a good political hit.
As difficult as it's becoming, I really want to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. But that's hard to do when the White House can't even manage to deny that our new President is reserving the right to torture detainees.
Today on Hardball, Chris Matthews directly asked David Axelrod about Cheney's allegation:
CHENEY: It's almost gone unnoticed that the President has retained the power to order the same methods in the same circumstances.
MATTHEWS: Is that true, David?
AXELROD: Look, the president issued an executive order banning torture. As he said in his presentation he doesn't believe this is the most effective way to get the intelligence we need. He thinks its inconsistent with our values and our interests. And ultimately makes us less safe. And that is his position. And again this what almost the sole focus of the vice president's speech and it was a little bit bewildering. But that's his business. I thought the president laid out a very reasoned speech to the American people about why he took the decisions he's taken. And about where we have to go to clean up the mess that we have in Guantanamo and to preserve our values and our security.
MATTHEWS: Well is it your understanding that President Obama reserves the right to use enhanced interrogation methods if we're in an emergency situation. Is that your understanding? According to the former vice president, that is what the president has said on the record.
AXELROD: I think that President has made clear his feeling about those tactics with his executive order. The President's going to do everything that he needs to do to keep this country safe. And I think he's been clear about that. The American people should be clear about that. This, to me, is a side issue.
I think I'm going to be sick. I don't want to be writing this diary, but it's pretty damned evident that Cheney is right -- President Obama is reserving the right to torture. Because if it wasn't true, Axelrod wouldn't have hesitated to deny it.
I'm just sad and disgusted.
In a post today on Talking Points Memo, "Could Cheney Be (Gulp) Right?", David Kurtz agrees that Axelrod danced around the question. Kurtz also notes that "We asked the White House yesterday to comment on Cheney's claim and got no response."