The news here is that this isn’t news. Less than a week after the election, rumors were already swirling that he was going to retain the option “in certain cases” to use procedures not authorized by the Army Field Manual. Then the left got him to back down on appointing John Brennan, who’d defended some of Bush’s interrogation policies, as director of the CIA. I thought that signaled the end of heart-ache for Andrew Sullivan, but no: Not only might Brennan end up being placed in a supervisory role, evidently The One’s still flirting with a little presidential prerogative when it comes to especially “difficult” subjects.
For Obama, who repeatedly insisted during the 2008 presidential campaign and the transition period that “America doesn’t torture,” a classified loophole would allow him to back up his vow to end harsh interrogations while retaining a full range of presidential options in conducting the war against terrorism.
The proposed loophole, which could come in the form of a classified annex to the manual, would satisfy intelligence experts who fear that an outright ban of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques would limit the government in obtaining threat information that could save American lives. It would also preserve Obama’s flexibility to authorize any interrogation tactics he might deem necessary for national security.
However, such a move would frustrate Senate Democrats and human rights, retired military and religious groups that have pressed for a government-wide prohibition on methods they describe as torture…
“That would not be good,” said the Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. “We don’t need to be able to torture and we don’t need to engage in any interrogation techniques that are not humane. And unless we have absolute clarity that these interrogation techniques will not be used, they are not going to be able to say that.”
Indeed. How is Obama upholding his vow to end harsh interrogations if he’s not ending harsh interrogations? All he’s doing is scaling it down from the level of official policy to an ad hoc contingency, which makes it even more arbitrary and potentially abused. Exit question: The left won’t cut him a break on this the way they will on, say, TARP; absolutist opposition to harsh interrogation in whatever form, from barking dogs on up, is now as central to “progressive” identity as support for abortion is. How can he make them happy while still preserving the option he needs for emergencies? He’s not going to risk his reelection on being caught short-handed in a ticking-bomb scenario.