During Leon's recent confirmation hearing, he went on record to state that the new administration's policy would differ from those of Bush & Cheney, and he would order an end to 'harsh' interrogation techniques, and allow the Red Cross access to CIA prisoners.(1) In my earlier commentary, I defended his lack of intelligence experience because I really believed that bringing in an outsider would foster change in one of the most corrupt institutions in the U.S: the CIA. Since his recent arrival Leon Panetta has not only publicly acknowledged his stance of "not" prosecuting war criminals, but has gone on to state that at times, the U.S. may need to resort to those tactics again "if we had a ticking bomb situation".
"I think they made some wrong decisions, I think they made mistakes," he said. "I think sometimes they believe the ends justifies the means, and that's where people sometimes go wrong." Panetta said he thinks that in the fear of another Sept. 11-style attack, Bush administration officials thought, "We can't be bothered with legalisms." Panetta said, however, that he believes the greatest weapon the United States has against terrorists is its moral authority and commitment to the rule of law." (2)
The CIA cannot be above the law, and yet his testimony suggests he believes it is. Torturers (past or future) must be brought to trial! A jury - not the President, not a Congressional panel - must decide their fate. A jury may find them innocent, but that is the role of the dice any one who breaks the law must face, regardless of their intentions. The argument "they were just following orders" has been pretty well stripped of any validity. The concept that the CIA director can go to the president for "authorization" to torture people is something he says the prior administration was wrong to do, but is a privilege he reserves for himself. Panetta now degrades the essence of "moral authority" he wants to reference.
About this time Obama is probably feeling a lot like the Biblical character Lot, who searched the city of Sodom for 10 righteous people. Mr President: take a clue from Lot - if you want to find good people - you have to look for people who haven't spent the last 20 years in New York and Washington.
1. Panetta is Open to Extreme Methods in Certain CIA Cases, Mark Mazetti, New York Times, February 6, 2009, p.A16.
2. Panetta Says CIA Interrogators Won't Face Prosecution, AP, February 06, 2009