As I have mentioned in comments on various blogs, when Obama received his first national intelligence briefing in November, he entered the most exclusive club in the world. He began to learn things that no doubt completely changed the way he would think about the world from that moment forward. The blunt realities of leading the most powerful nation in the world are no doubt eye opening. This is why foreign policy remains the least changed aspect of the federal government with each new President. There is more continuity there than in any other area and for good reason. Foreign policy is a very complicated thing and it can’t be subject to the whims of each new President.
When Obama began to receive executive-level intelligence he also began to see a very different picture than those of us who get our security briefings from CNN and MSNBC. He was probably informed about successes we have had using intelligence gained under duress. He probably learned about the use of torture in every administration since FDR. He probably learned about a lot of rule-breaking under previous administrations that resulted in a safer America. And that is why I don’t think he will pursue investigations of Bush’s administration. Because now he knows why they do what they do.
He then relies to a post by Ross Douthat that talks about terror and the Clinton Administration:
The first time [Richard Clarke] proposed a snatch, in 1993, the White House Counsel, Lloyd Cutler, demanded a meeting with the President to explain how it violated international law. Al Gore belatedly joined the meeting, having just flown overnight from South Africa. Clinton recapped the arguments on both sides for Gore: “Lloyd says this. Dick says that. Gore laughed and said, ‘That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.’
Let's start with what I agree with here: I do understand and appreciate that once someone becomes President, they are made aware of all threats that the United States face. When someone is elected and asked to sit in the Oval Office, they are tasked with trying to protect a nation of 300 million. I can also understand that in some cases, Presidents have stretched the law in order to protect the nation. It would be foolhardy to believe that no other President has considered or even looked the other way while harsh methods were used. President Bush was caught allowing torture, but I don't doubt that others have done it in the past as well.
Presidents are not called to be Boy Scouts. But neither are they called to be some kind of modern day Machiavelli, cynical to the core.
While I tend to believe that other Presidents have been engaging in unethical practices, that doesn't mean that it should go unnoticed all in the name of national security. It's one thing to get ones hands dirty while in leadership, it is another to play in the mud.
The problem here is that by not allowing a reckoning, allows the CIA or the military to do what they please and what they need to do. It allows for no oversight, to allow things to happen under cover of night.
In a post back in 2007, Dyre Portents had this to say about torture:
Torture elicits false confessions and information from the innocent, it produces false information from the guilty/knowledgeable who have been properly trained or should either their loyalty or pain threshold be high. It does however provide actionable intelligence from those that lack loyalty and/or a high endurance for pain/discomfort. If I had the numbers to crunch I'd bet that the percentage of soldiers or terrorists that fall into that last group is really low. What we need to figure out is if the percentage of real information were getting from torture is worth the sacrifice of America's moral authority. I don't believe it is. We're supposed to be the good guys and it's high time we started acting like it.
I know there is a lot of grey in this issue of security. But I worry that allowing torture and other extreme measures will mean losing any authority to tell totalitarian regimes that they need to stop hurting detainees. As I said before, the law can't remain silent in the area of national security. It's one thing to allow for some flexibility, but we can't just try to gag the law. We are a nation of laws.
The whole torture debate is not so cut and dry. But even when life is grey, there has to be some standards, or we will lose any sense of authority.