Is Obama moving away from interrogation reform?

One of the few points of agreement between the two presidential candidates came on the issue of interrogation techniques.  Both Barack Obama and John McCain want to have greater restrictions on the use of harsh techniques, although they differed on a bill that would have placed the CIA under the same set of restrictions as the Department of Defense.  Now, though, aides to Obama now hint that Obama may not agree to using the Army field manual as the outer limit of CIA interrogation techniques:

Although Obama issued a statement during the campaign supporting the idea of applying the Army field manual interrogation standard to all agencies, not just the Pentagon, a senior campaign adviser to Obama left the door open to applying another standard.

“He [believes] torture not be allowed in any form or fashion in any part of the federal government, and he would make sure that was the case,” said John Brennan, who served under former CIA chief George J. Tenet in a variety of capacities at a time when the agency has since acknowledged it waterboarded a small number of terror suspects.

“Whether the Army field manual is comprehensive enough to cover all those tactics and techniques, that’s something I think he’d look to his national security advisers for,” Brennan said in an interview with CQ in August.

The Wall Street Journal, citing a “current government official familiar with the transition,” reported this week that “Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight.”

In February, the national media castigated John McCain for supposedly betraying his opposition to torture when he opposed the Dianne Feinstein bill that would have imposed the AFM as the gold standard for non-torture.  Columnists around the country accused McCain of pandering to the Republican base after having wrapped up the nomination for all intents and purposes.  They attacked his honor without understanding the issues involved in that particular bill and what it would mean for intelligence gathering.

Forcing the CIA to adhere to the AFM would have done much more than forbid waterboarding, which the CIA stopped using in 2003 anyway.  It went as far as blocking the CIA from using barking dogs to intimidate detainees, as just one example of a number of methods.  As I wrote in February, if you could save one life by having a dog bark at a detainee, would you do it? For Pete’s sake, who wouldn’t?  The AFM is not the ur-text of non-torture, and it’s designed for military intelligence, not overall intelligence efforts — and identifying it publicly as the outer limits of interrogation technique makes it very easy for our enemies to train against it.

If Obama now agrees with McCain on this issue, that’s an improvement — but will the press treat Obama like they treated McCain?  Will they start talking about him as though he was the reincarnation of the Marquis de Sade and Vidkun Quisling rolled up into one person?  The MoveOn/Code Pink fringe certainly will, especially after his reversal on FISA reform this summer, on which the media largely gave him a pass.

I suspect they will give him a pass on this occasion, too.  And that will speak volumes about their dishonest and vitriolic attacks on McCain in February, smearing his honor for partisan political purposes.