Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Obama Inflames Both Left and Right on Torture Issue

Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, former Vice President Dick Cheney and President Obama.

AP photo composite by POLITICO

Yesterday I linked to Glen Greenwald’s post in Salon asserting that Obama was aware that he was not the decider in whether or not to prosecute Bush officials who permitted torture. That seemed clear enough. But today Gerstein and Allen at Politico have this to say:

President Barack Obama’s attempt to project legal and moral clarity on coercive CIA interrogation methods has instead done the opposite — creating confusion and political vulnerability over an issue that has inflamed both the left and right.

In the most recent instance, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair acknowledged in a memo to the intelligence community that Bush-era interrogation practices {had} yielded {had }"high-value information,” then omitted that admission from a public version of his assessment.

That leaves a top Obama administration official appearing to validate claims by former Vice President Dick Cheney that waterboarding and other techniques the White House regards as torture were effective in preventing terrorist attacks. And the press release created the impression the administration was trying to suppress this conclusion.

The president, who has said he wants to focus on the future rather than litigate the past, also opened himself to distraction and attack by retracting the earlier assurance by top officials that they had no plans to prosecute lawyers for former President George W. Bush who approved the “enhanced interrogation” program.

A Democratic strategist close to the White House said: “The president looked resolute, and like he had threaded the needle perfectly on the substance: The heat from the right was preposterous, and the heat from the left was manageable. But now they look like the scarecrow, pointing in both directions. They got the policy right, but they look confused and beaten down by critics."

The implications go beyond a typical Washington spat over “message control.” Obama’s moves virtually guarantee a sharp public focus on two uncomfortable questions that his team previously sought to leave vague:

*Should people be tried and even sent to prison—as many Democrats want—for what Obama regards as illegal practices under Bush?

*Even if wrong, did those practices have any positive results in stopping new attacks?

Obama’s own statements are murky on both questions.

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