Panetta Panders to Power

By David Swanson

At his confirmation hearing, now CIA director Leon Panetta made clear that he believed a president can order torture, and said that he would not hesitate to ask President Obama to use torture “if we had the ticking bomb situation and I felt that whatever we were using wasn’t sufficient.” Panetta is, according to Michael Waldman, “one of the most honorable, decent, and principled people in government.”

Jane Mayer’s new profile of Panetta in the New Yorker begins with the assumption that “after 9/11 the agency lost its moral bearings,” meaning both that it once had moral bearings and that returning to what it was in 2001 would amount to recovering moral bearings.

What does Panetta favor doing with CIA employees who tortured? “I’m going to give people the benefit of the doubt,” he told Mayer. He also said:

“I really respect the people who say we shouldn’t have gotten involved in the interrogation business, but we had to do our jobs. I don’t think I should penalize people who were doing their duty.”

Earlier this year, Panetta favored a “truth commission” as a way to evade the question of enforcing laws: “I was for it, because every time a question came up, you could basically say, ‘The commission, hopefully, is looking at this.'” Then Panetta made explicit one of Obama’s obvious reasons for opposing even a commission:

“It was the President who basically said, ‘If I do this, it will look like I’m trying to go after Cheney and Bush.”

Another obvious reason not to prosecute crimes is that you are committing them. Here’s something else Mayer reports:

“A well-informed analyst with close ties to the White House says that the CIA has been lobbying hard to get Obama to support some form of preventive detention for terror suspects. An agency spokesman denies this. But the analyst says, ‘They definitely want the flexibility to hold people in some form of detention. They have been saying, “We need deep authorities.” They’ve been presenting the President with nightmare scenarios.’ Panetta, for his part, has been persuaded that renditions are a tool worth keeping.”

So, the CIA shouldn’t have gotten into the interrogation business, but …
1) it should have kept shipping prisoners to friends in other countries who could do the “interrogating,” and
2) the CIA was not pushed into the torture business, but jumped in eagerly

And, while Panetta claims it was a mistake,

1) He would do it again under the right circumstances, and
2) He parrots Dick Cheney in claiming, without any evidence, that torture produced information:

“Yes, important information was gathered from these detainees. It provided information that was in fact acted upon. Was this the only way to obtain this information? I think that will always be an open question. … We did pay a price for using those methods.”

Imagine what someone who was not one of the most honorable, decent, and principled people in government would be doing.