Obama Pick Urges Some Secrecy

Daily News Article   —   Posted on January 23, 2009

(by Eli Lake, WashingtonTimes.com) – President Obama on Thursday rolled back classified Bush administration interrogation techniques, but even as he was signing the order, his pick to be director of national intelligence told Congress that agencies still need secret tactics.

Mr. Obama’s order made the widely available Army Field Manual the standard for all interrogation techniques, erasing Bush-era rules that allowed some interrogators to go beyond what the military was generally allowed to do.

But Dennis Blair, testifying at his confirmation hearing before the Senate intelligence committee, said the guidelines for some techniques must be kept secret so enemies can’t train to withstand them.

“There will be some sort of document that’s widely available in an unclassified form. … The specific techniques that can provide training value to adversaries we will handle much more carefully,” the retired admiral said.

Mr. Obama on Thursday also signed orders closing the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. But, as with the interrogation order, the president left many of the thorniest questions to be answered later. Lawmakers in Congress lined up to try to prevent suspected terrorists from being brought to prisons in their own districts.

In a third directive, Mr. Obama ordered so-called “black sites” – secret prisons run by the CIA outside the U.S., where detainees were reportedly tortured – to be closed.

“The orders that I signed today should send an unmistakable signal that our actions, in defense of liberty, will be just as our cause and that we the people will uphold our fundamental values as vigilantly as we protect our security,” Mr. Obama said later in the day, during remarks at the State Department.

Mr. Obama’s directives wipe away all of the Bush Justice Department’s contentious rulings on interrogations.

The president asked for a task force led by the attorney general to report back with recommendations on both how to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and on interrogations of high-value detainees.

The panel will deliver an opinion in 180 days on what to do with Guantanamo detainees who are too dangerous to release but can’t be tried in a court, either because the evidence against them is classified or was obtained in such a way that it might be inadmissible in court.

That conundrum was one of the main drivers that prompted the Bush administration to create the Guantanamo facility in the first place.

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The panel also will report back on whether the CIA should be free of some restrictions in the Army Field Manual.

“There may be merit in the argument that some of the standards and the guidance associated with the Army Field Manual are not applicable to the intelligence scenario,” (said a senior Obama administration official who briefed reporters on the condition that his name not be used, saying he could speak more freely that way). “We’re not talking about different techniques. We’re talking about guidance, how you go about doing something as opposed to how you question somebody.”

The official said that doesn’t mean the Obama administration is creating “a secret annex that allows us to bring the enhanced interrogation techniques back.”

In his testimony, Mr. Blair said, “My understanding is we want to revise the Army Field Manual and make it the manual that goes for both military and intelligence interrogation.”

He said that he didn’t know whether the revised manual would include techniques not in the current Army Field Manual but that distribution of the new manual would “be limited to those who need it, both within the armed forces and the intelligence service.”

Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican and the panel’s vice chairman, said putting some techniques in secret guidance sounded similar to the current setup, which Mr. Obama said he is eliminating.

“They are leaving the option open to do something similar to what the Bush administration did,” Mr. Bond said in an interview.

Mr. Blair, a retired admiral, echoed his Bush administration predecessors somewhat on waterboarding, the most controversial procedure used against terrorism suspects, by refusing to say that the procedure is torture.

However, he did say that the intelligence community would not engage in the practice of pouring water onto a person’s face as they are bound to a board, stimulating the gag reflex and simulating the feeling of drowning.

Mr. Blair’s predecessor as “intelligence czar,” Michael McConnell, warned publicly last week that the CIA would be hamstrung if it abided only by the Army Field Manual in conducting interrogations.

“Does the [intelligence] community need interrogation techniques beyond what’s in the Army Field Manual? In my opinion we do,” he told reporters at a farewell press conference.

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The order on Guantanamo, however is “less consequential than it appears,” he said. “It doesn’t really make any policy judgments.”

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Congressional Democrats applauded the president’s decisions, saying they would help the U.S. reclaim moral high ground they said was lost with revelations about detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and elsewhere.

But Republicans said that closing Guantanamo could mean transferring known and suspected terrorists to U.S. or military prisons.

“Some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world are at Gitmo,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and former chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, who said a facility in his state was equipped to house them. “Only one wing of the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth meets maximum security requirements, and it’s far too small for even a handful of detainees.

“Detainees require their own hospital and medical care, religious spaces, courtrooms, and even recreation facilities. Plus, there’s no support facilities for the several thousand guards needed and their families,” said Mr. Roberts, a former Marine who visited the facility in 2005.

House Republicans introduced a bill Thursday to prohibit any Guantanamo detainees from being moved to the U.S.

Copyright 2009 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.

Questions

1. List the three presidential directives (orders) signed by President Obama yesterday.

2. What did Dennis Blair (President Obama’s pick for Director of National Intelligence) say about interrogation techniques during his confirmation hearing yesterday?

3. President Obama has ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (Gitmo) and the end to certain interrogation techniques for terrorists. What does he plan to do with the terrorist detainees?

4. What was one of the main reasons the Bush administration created the Guantanamo holding facility in the first place?

5. The U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogation is a manual describing to military interrogators how to conduct effective interrogations while conforming with U.S. and international law. It is used with lawful combatants who are captured. They are protected under the Geneva Convention. What determination will President Obama’s task force attempt to make regarding the CIA and the Army Field Manual?

6. What does Senator Bond say about the Obama administration’s plan to keep some interrogtion techniques secret?

7. During his confirmation hearing yesterday what did Mr. Blair say about the use of waterboarding on terrorists?

8. How is (outgoing Director of National Intelligence) Michael McConnell reacting to the Obama administration changes to interrogation methods?

9. Do you agree with the changes President Obama has made in U.S. policies on Gitmo and terrorist interrogations? Explain your answer.

10.  Questions for discussion:
-What is torture?
-What is the purpose of interrogating prisoners?
-Is all harsh treatment of terrorist prisoners torture?
-Is waterboarding torture?
-Can we protect our national security without using interrogation methods like waterboarding?
-What is more important to you: world opinion of America, or preventing terrorist attacks?
-How will Pres. Obama closing Gitmo and eliminating controversial interrogation techniques affect terrorists’ view of America?


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Background

The U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogation is a manual describing to military interrogators how to conduct effective interrogations while conforming with U.S. and international law. It is used with lawful combatants who are captured. They are protected under the Geneva Convention.
In the beginning of the war on terror then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld issued “enhanced interrogation techniques” that went farther than those authorized in the Army Field Manual. The extended techniques stimulated debate, both within the Bush administration, and outside it. The extended techniques were to be used only on the captives the United States classified as “illegal combatants.”