The NYT reporter who, at the Boston Globe, helped expose the worst abuses of executive power under Bush-Cheney, writes a piece today that reminds all of us that vigilance is vital if we are to maximize civil liberty with potent measures to counter the terrorist threat. It's true that in many areas, we simply do not know yet the full final measure of the policies Obama will adopt after reasonable review. It is also true - and of vital importance - that the use of torture, routine under Bush-Cheney, has been clearly ended by executive order (with Panetta's ticking time bomb exception). And I agree with Greenwald that Charlie's piece, while very carefully written, gives too-gloomy a view of what has transpired so far.
Nonetheless, there are areas that should worry us. The first is Obama's sympathy for a policy of rendition of suspects to states that simply have to state that they will not torture. This became an unserious assurance under Bush, and if it is mere window-dressing for outsourcing torture, it opens up a real danger for abuse and threatens to undermine the clear repudiation of torture that Obama's election meant. We need much clearer assurance that this won't happen again - and a means to verify that. The second is the invocation of the state secret privilege with respect to the Binyam Mohamed case.
Greg Craig, as Greenwald notes, has clearly invoked this clause for exactly the same reason as Bush did in responding to Savage:
Mr. Craig said Mr. Holder and others reviewed the case and “came to the conclusion that it was justified and necessary for national security” to maintain their predecessor’s stance.
This is not a holding pattern or a request for more time; it is clearly to prevent the facts of Mohamed's alleged torture from embarrassing the US government, and possibly the UK, Moroccan and Pakistan governments for their alleged role in overseeing such torture. It may be that there are just unavoidable costs to Bush's legacy, and revealing the full extent of those crimes could undermine security or alliances in ways no government responsible for security in a flawed and fallen world can allow. At the same time, there's a very thin line between having no choice but to inherit this stinking pile and retroactively becoming complicit in it. I worry increasingly about the latter.
Much of this is still murky - which is why we need to keep our eyes as firmly focused on government abuse now as we were in the last administration. And Glenn is absolutely right to remind us that the whole point of our resistance to the war crimes of the last seven years was not to rely on our subjective beliefs about the moral integrity of a lone man in the Oval Office. It is to restore a maximally transparent, lawful and effective policy against Jihadist terrorism under the rule of law and the Constitution. Obama needs to be held to exactly the same standards as Bush. And if he thinks we will give him a pass, he needs to think again.