CIA's Rearguard Action In Favor Of Torture Working?

Jane Mayer writes:

Across the Potomac River, at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, however, there was considerably less jubilation [about Obama's executive orders.] Top C.I.A. officials have argued for years that so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques have yielded life-saving intelligence breakthroughs. “They disagree in some respect,” admitted Craig. Among the hard questions Obama left open, in fact, is whether the C.I.A. will have to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. While the President has clearly put an end to cruel tactics, Craig said that Obama “is somewhat sympathetic to the spies’ argument that their mission and circumstances are different.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Actually, as written, the Obama executive orders bind the CIA to follow the Army Field Manual. In what way is the question open? Are Craig and Obama planning to backtrack on this point? A competent Media would be asking that question this morning.

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    I think Obama (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by SOS on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 09:54:14 AM EST
    needs to focus on the National Layoff Festival that is now in full swing and picked up steam today.

    He'll in be in serious trouble at this rate.

    Monday Jan 25 . . . 20,000 (none / 0) (#10)
    by SOS on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 09:59:03 AM EST

    The CIA is absurd. (none / 0) (#1)
    by lilburro on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 08:51:45 AM EST
    They constantly claim that they were just following orders in implementing Bush torture policies, but they are basically the only ones left - aside from Bush & Cheney! - willing to loudly advocate for those policies.

    But to answer your question, maybe Mayer's article is referring to this?

    A day before Obama signed executive orders closing Guantánamo Bay and banning torture, the White House's top lawyer privately indicated to Congress that the new president reserved the right to ignore his own (and any other president's) executive orders. In a closed-door appearance before the Senate intelligence committee, White House counsel Gregory Craig was asked whether the president was required by law to follow executive orders. According to people familiar with his remarks, who asked for anonymity when discussing a private meeting, Craig answered that the administration did not believe he was. The implication: in a national-security crisis, Obama could deviate from his own rules. A White House official said that Craig's remarks were being "mischaracterized."

    Doubt it (none / 0) (#2)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 08:54:20 AM EST
    I think there must have been a misunderstanding - to wit - Obama could always issue a NEW executive order superseding the existing ones.

    No need to violate his own executive order when he can repeal it with the stroke of a pen.


    maybe the CIA (none / 0) (#3)
    by lilburro on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 09:06:41 AM EST
    is trying to influence the Special Task Force?  

    from the order The Special Task Force mission:

    (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; and

    Indeed (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 09:08:39 AM EST
    And my concern is Greg Craig is already sounding sold.

    the members of the Task Force (none / 0) (#5)
    by lilburro on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 09:15:14 AM EST
    seem like tough nuts to crack though.  Holder, Blair, Clinton & Panetta will be on it.

    Why did Obama leave this door open anyway?  It's just going to prolong a debate where there should be no debate.


    Yup this is ... (none / 0) (#12)
    by Robot Porter on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 10:28:51 AM EST
    the "loophole." And it should be watched closely.

    But my guess is that six months from now (when the Task Force's report is due -- they can delay it further), they'll say, "Army Field manual is fine for all departments and agencies."

    End of story.

    It's the classic positive use of a "blue ribbon panel" approach.  Kick the controversy down the road, and bet that the opposition will die on the vine in the interim.


    The leakers don't really care (none / 0) (#14)
    by HenryFTP on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 11:03:37 AM EST
    about authorization to go beyond the Army Field Manual -- what they really care about is being "burned" for having tortured people in the custody of the CIA under the questionable Bush-Cheney "authorizations". They reckon (correctly in my view) that if "enhanced interrogation techniques" get some validation from the Obama administration, then the Obama Department of Justice will be estopped or at least significantly impeded from bringing prosecutions.

    CIA officers know perfectly well that torture yields highly unreliable information. They are also perfectly well aware that no useful operational intelligence can be gleaned from the member of an underground cell after the first 72 hours of captivity (if they all re-screened Battle of Algiers as part of their required syllabus, do they somehow think their adversaries are unaware of it?).

    If nothing else, the outstanding indictments of some 22 CIA officers in Italy has concentrated their minds about their legal exposure. This is very much about covering their posteriors and very little to do with gathering useful intelligence.


    I hope this is wrong. (none / 0) (#23)
    by seeker on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 04:27:12 PM EST
    I think I remember Whitehouse grilling Gonzalez or one of his lackeys on precisely this claim:  The President was not bound by his own Exec. Orders.  Whitehouse, and I, found this absolutely lawless.  (If official interpretations of law can be abandoned at the President's will, then there is no law governing behavior.)

    I really don't understand (none / 0) (#6)
    by Steve M on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 09:22:34 AM EST
    why the Army Field Manual is not good enough.  Are people under the impression that the U.S. military is a bunch of wimps?  That if they need to uncover vital battlefield intelligence that may save thousands of lives, all they do is bring in the comfy chair?  Seems to me that the tools employed by our military ought to be easily sufficient for civilian interrogations.

    If you don't want as much bad intelligence (none / 0) (#11)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 10:26:39 AM EST
    as good intelligence gleaned, it is sufficient.  If we are going to use torture interrogation methods we have to also entertain the fact that people with false information they believe to be true will be planted so we can waterboard away.  Torture is the absolute worst way to gather information.

    As with everything Obama (none / 0) (#7)
    by ricosuave on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 09:35:23 AM EST
    the question is not what he says, but what he will do.  On nearly every topic there is quotable support from Obama or his people on the full range of possibilities.  If you like him, you find comfort in his supporting positions.  If you don't like him, you can scrape together enough to give you a reason to damn him.  And his actual history beyond words is ambiguous or thin.

    Aside from the insanely dogmatic absolutism of George Bush, this is not uncommon.  As BTD continually points out, Obama is a pol and all pols act like pols.  I think the uniqueness here is the degree to which Obama has overpromised (or, perhaps, the degree to which his supporters have unrealistically high expectations).  The current talk of loopholes and task forces don't give me high hopes that he will meet those expectations.

    The torture order was, of course, far better than we have had from the last eight years and is worthy of praise for that reason alone.  But the question of whether he is serious probably can't be answered until we see how he reacts to real events.  Will he prosecute CIA officers or others that violate it?  Will we hear stories of some big rendition or CIA houses in Europe in the next few years?  How will the Guantanamo prisoners be handled?

    We need to ask these questions to Obama (none / 0) (#8)
    by Saul on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 09:41:00 AM EST
    at the next press conference just to make sure we are perfectly clear on what the EO stipulates.  

    Mr. President  on signing your recent executive order on banning torture was this order absolute or did you leave room for a loophole when torture could be used?


    Mr. President was the executive order banning torture directed to ALL agencies or departments of the U.S. Government  whereby all agencies and departments would be totally banned to use torture in any fashion form or manner and the only interrogation methods applicable would be those written in the Army Field manual?

    i'm sure they have. (none / 0) (#13)
    by cpinva on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 11:03:32 AM EST
    Top C.I.A. officials have argued for years that so-called "enhanced" interrogation techniques have yielded life-saving intelligence breakthroughs.

    whether it's true is another issue entirely. much like the pentagon terrorist "recidivists", we've only their (CIA) word for any of it.

    they could tell us, but then they'd have to kill all of us.

    obama's executive order was crystal clear, it brooked no room for "interpretation" unless, you can't read. obviously, as BTD pointed out, obama could issue another executive order superseding this one, but i don't see that happening.

    just my opinion.

    Well, Jane Meyer can read (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by oldpro on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 11:09:23 AM EST
    and there's nothing wrong with her hearing.

    Four to eight years of WORM might be more than I can stand.


    Does anyone find this kind of stuff credible? (none / 0) (#18)
    by jbindc on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 01:43:25 PM EST

    Five days after President Barack Obama signed an executive order to close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay within a year, two Saudis who were released from the controversial U.S. prison in 2007 renewed their pledge to attack western interests in a video released by Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula on the internet today.

    "We assure our leaders Sheikh Osama Bin Laden, may God protect him, and Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri, that we shall continue to follow the path of jihad," said Abu Sufian al Azdi Saeed al Shihri, a Saudi who was a prisoner at the Guantanamo prison.

    "By God, our imprisonment has only made us more resilient and more committed to our principles that we had fought jihad and been taken prisoners for," added al Shihri, who's now the deputy to the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

    If the game is so rigged (none / 0) (#19)
    by jondee on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 03:29:05 PM EST
    at this point that Obama cant keep corporate America's K Street frontmen from continuing to have their way with the public interest, how is anyone to expect him to rein in their goon squad?

    See Gen Smedley Butler for an interesting take on the grand American tradition of Wall St and it's overseas enforcers.


    No one's ever been prosecuted (none / 0) (#21)
    by jondee on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 03:48:44 PM EST
    for promoting torture, murder, "extrajudicial assassination", kidnapping etc etc in Latin America, the Shah's Iran, Pinochet's Chile, Vietnam etc

    Why do you suppose that is; I mean, other than the fact that the lunatics have taken over the asylum?


    Rendition? (none / 0) (#20)
    by Jacob Freeze on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 03:48:02 PM EST
    There's a good article in Counterpunch about the possibility of rendition as a substitute for do-it-yourself torture by American agents, at

    Why would it be working? (none / 0) (#22)
    by Alien Abductee on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 04:27:09 PM EST
    You forgot to quote this part of the same article:

    Despite such sentiments, Obama's executive orders will undoubtedly rein in the C.I.A.. Waterboarding, for instance, has gone the way of the rack, now that the C.I.A. is strictly bound by customary interpretations of the Geneva Conventions. This decision, too, was the result of intense deliberation. During the transition period, unknown to the public, Obama's legal, intelligence, and national-security advisers visited Langley for two long sessions with current and former intelligence-community members. They debated whether a ban on brutal interrogation practices would hurt their ability to gather intelligence, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to prepare a cost-benefit analysis. The conclusions may surprise defenders of harsh interrogation tactics. "There was unanimity among Obama's expert advisers," Craig said, "that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence."

    Why would they want to backtrack on their public position for something their experts are unanimous in telling them is not even more effective?