It looks like we’ve figured out what Dick Cheney meant when he said President Obama has “reserved unto himself” the right to order enhanced interrogation techniques.
In February the Wall Street Journal reported (sub. req.) :
CIA Director Leon Panetta, in his first meeting with reporters, said the agency will continue to carry out drone attacks on militants in Pakistan. He also said that while CIA interrogations will have new limits, President Barack Obama can still use his wartime powers to authorize harsher techniques if necessary.
On interrogations, Mr. Panetta said he believes the CIA can be effective if it limits itself to the 19 techniques the military is allowed to use. He said the administration is evaluating the effectiveness of so-called enhanced interrogation tactics such as waterboarding and will make recommendations to the president on what techniques should be allowed. In the interim, only the 19 techniques will be used.
During his confirmation hearing, Panetta said something similar under questioning from Sen. Kit Bond:
SEN. BOND: All right. The recent executive order ensuring lawful interrogations currently allows no flexibility for interrogating terrorists using techniques outside the Army Field Manual. Have you been briefed by General Hayden on his view that interrogation techniques listed in the Army Field Manual or in other media are not and will not be effective in obtaining critical information from well-informed, hardened and bright HVTs who have access to a description of these techniques?
MR. PANETTA: I have not. Again, there is a review process that’s built into that executive order that I am going to be a part of that will look at those kinds of enhanced techniques to determine how effective they were or weren’t and whether any appropriate revisions need to be made as a result of that.
SEN. BOND: I would hope you would.
Conservatives have been jumping up and down ever since Panetta made that statement, arguing that it proves there’s no distinction between the Bush and Obama administrations on torture. Sen. Lindsey Graham asked former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan about a similar comment Panetta made in which he said that in a ticking time-bomb scenario, it would be OK to do everything possible within the law to prevent an attack. (In response, Soufan noted the “within the law” caveat.)
And now it looks like, by slipping it into his high-profile speech, Cheney has taken that right-wing meme and tried to turn it mainstream.
Of course, reviewing whether such it might be appropriate to allow such techniques is not quite the same as Obama “reserv[ing] unto himself” the right to use them. But like we said, Cheney’s never been big on nuance.