Slip Sliding Away and the Democrats: Is Torture Torture or Not?

By Dennis Loo

After consistently and unequivocally demanding that the Bush White House employ nothing other than the Army Field Manual in their interrogations, even introducing legislation to ensure that, Sen. Diane Feinstein – who is going to take over as Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in January - backtracked in a December 2, 2008 interview in the New York Times:

“[I]n an interview on Tuesday, Mrs. Feinstein indicated that extreme cases might call for flexibility. ‘I think that you have to use the noncoercive standard to the greatest extent possible,’ she said, raising the possibility that an imminent terrorist threat might require special measures.

“Afterward, however, Mrs. Feinstein issued a statement saying: ‘The law must reflect a single clear standard across the government, and right now, the best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual. I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new administration to consider them.’

The Times article goes on to further relate Sen. Ron Wyden’s remarks:

“Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, another top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said he would consult with the C.I.A. and approve interrogation techniques that went beyond the Army Field Manual as long as they were ‘legal, humane and noncoercive.’ But Mr. Wyden declined to say whether C.I.A. techniques ought to be made public.”

These remarks bode exceedingly ill for current and future detainees of the U.S. government and for American soldiers who might be captured, and of course, for the fate of this country and the world.

As Glenn Greenwald on December 4 noted at length, Feinstein and Wyden are now backsliding on their very public and consistent rhetorical stands opposing the use of techniques beyond what the Army Field Manual proscribes.

I hasten to point out, however, that:

The fact that no member of Congress filibustered, and thereby stopped torture forthwith, when the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was being debated, or when, even before that, torture was revealed to be going on (Nancy Pelosi knew in 2002), and the fact that no one outside of a handful of Congress, led by Dennis Kucinich, have moved for impeaching this White House of torturers, of course, would have - and still would - render all of these contortions unnecessary.

But so it goes – and continues to go: the Democrats, when left to their own devices, coalesce with the GOP, in the absence of a determined and irresistible mass movement that could force this government, Democrat and Republican alike, to do otherwise: that is, the right thing.

What’s going on?

Greenwald speculates that it was easy for Congressional Democrats to claim that torture must be avoided under all circumstances when anything they passed to that effect could be and was vetoed or signing statemented-away by Bush, but now if they pass such a law, Obama’s on record as saying that torture should be ended, and he would therefore have to sign such a bill. Therefore, the Senators are waffling because they don’t really want to such a bill to become law.

Certainly, Democrats have set the bar very high for world-class waffling and far be it from me to dispute that they might be doing so. But Greenwald’s explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

While he is right about the Senate Democrats backtracking, what’s in play here is more disturbing.

Let’s look closely at Feinstein’s remarks, which were not issued off the cuff but were reissued by her office to expand upon what she said to the Times:

“[T]he best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual. I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new administration to consider them.”

Whose views are these “other views?” They could perhaps be originating from the GOP or the current White House, although if that is the source, this is a strange way of putting it since the White House’s views and practice on this are known to everyone and not new for that reason. No, the source of these “other views” is the incoming Obama administration. Yes, the same administration that has repeatedly said that torture is wrong and said that they will end it when they take office.

The Senate Democrats are not acting on their own and would not be issuing these new equivocal statements without first being signaled by the President-Elect’s team and possibly Obama himself that they are considering some “alternative sets of procedures” for interrogations. Party members don’t go off on their own in such a dramatic fashion without first checking with the leaders of their Party.

This shift by Feinstein and Wyden is, unfortunately, consistent with signals coming from the Obama team within the last few weeks on what they are planning to do about the Guantanamo detainees, about creating a new kind of court (“National Security Courts”), and about continuing “preventive detention.” If they do go ahead with these plans, they will have joined unequivocally the no man’s land realm that the Bush cabal has been occupying.

[Update: Feinstein's office added in a communication with Michael Scherer of Time magazine the following to what she had previously issued: Saying "that she still wants a law that mandates the Field Manual as the sole interrogation standard, but that she may be willing to be talked back from that position by the Obama Administration, if it chooses to do so." This confirms my assessment that Feinstein and Wyden were reacting to signals from the Obama team - DL.

Feinstein further added in her comments to Scherer: "I plan to introduce legislation in January that would close Guantanamo, make the Army Field Manual the single standard for interrogations, prohibit contractors from being used to carry out interrogations and provide the International Committee of the Red Cross with access to detainees."

This "addition" of hers, however, does not add anything to what she said previously. It merely restates her vacillation - DL.]

The Times’ piece, authored by Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane, begins by describing the withdrawal of Brennan from consideration as the next CIA chief:

“John O. Brennan, a C.I.A. veteran who was widely seen as Mr. Obama’s likeliest choice to head the intelligence agency, withdrew his name from consideration after liberal critics attacked his alleged role in the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Mr. Brennan protested that he had been a ‘strong opponent’ within the agency of harsh interrogation tactics, yet Mr. Obama evidently decided that nominating Mr. Brennan was not worth a battle with some of his most ardent supporters on the left.” [Boldfacing added].

Mazzetti and Shane “forgot” to mention that Brennan has also been an exponent of the massive warrantless surveillance of all of America.

By describing Brennan’s role in supporting rendition and torture as “alleged” Mazzetti and Shane were engaging in the equivalent of declaring that 2+2 = 4 (allegedly).

It’s like Hillary Clinton cagily saying during the campaign that Barack Obama isn’t a Muslim, “as far as I know.”

This is what Brennan said in a March 8, 2006 Frontline interview: ”I think George [Tenet] had two concerns. One is to make sure that there was that legal justification, as well as protection for CIA officers who are going to be engaged in some of these things, so that they would not be then prosecuted or held liable for actions that were being directed by the administration. So we want to make sure the findings and other things were done probably with the appropriate Department of Justice review.”

Why was there concern of possible prosecution for CIA officers? There would be no concern if these CIA figures were following the Army Field Manual. There was only concern because they were engaging in practices prohibited by the AFM and that are unequivocally categorized by the Geneva Conventions as torture.

Mainstream media can’t bring itself to name practices for what they are when it comes to calling out government officials for what they are doing, but Mazzetti and Shane have no trouble describing in derogatory terms the critics of rendition, torture and massive, felonious surveillance as “ardent supporters on the left.”

I suppose that being opposed to torture makes you a lefty and hence all right-thinking, non-ardent, middle of the roaders or righties are for torture?

Brennan isn’t an “ardent” supporter of rendition. No, ardent isn’t good. He’s merely an “alleged” supporter of such practices.

Is it then better that we be “allegedly critics of torture?”

Speaking of alleged critics of torture: quo vadis Obama and the Congressional Democrats?

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