At long last. Change we can believe in.
In choosing Leon Panetta to take charge of the CIA, President-elect Barak Obama has shown he is determined to put an abrupt end to the lawlessness and deceit with which the administration of George W. Bush has corrupted intelligence operations and analysis.
First and foremost, the appointment gives hope that torture and "rendition" (a euphemism for kidnapping people for delivery to foreign torture chambers) is over — or will be in less than two weeks.
Character counts. And so does integrity.
With those qualities, and the backing of a new President, Panetta is equipped to lead the CIA out of the wilderness into which it was driven by sycophantic directors with very flexible attitudes toward truth, honesty and the law — directors who deemed it their duty to do the President's bidding — legal or illegal; honest or dishonest. In a city in which lapel-flags have been seen as adequate substitutes for the Constitution, Panetta will bring a rigid adherence to the rule of law.
For Panetta this is no battlefield conversion. On torture, for example, this is what he wrote a year ago:
"We cannot simply suspend [American ideals of human rights] in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don't. There is no middle ground.
"We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that."
Please tell those of your friends who rely solely on the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) that torture is a crime — not only under international law, but also under the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441) passed by a Republican-dominated Congress in 1996. And besides that, torture can never be counted upon to yield trustworthy intelligence—never.
As for integrity, this is nothing new for Leon Panetta. As head of President Richard Nixon's Office of Civil Rights, he insisted on enforcing laws to protect minorities even under pressure from Nixon to get in line with the Republican "southern strategy" of neglecting civil rights. Rather than buckle to these demands, Panetta resigned and later became a Democrat.
How Did We Get Here?
Political courage -- like that demonstrated by Panetta as a young man -- was what was lacking as the Bush administration turned America's principled repudiation of torture inside out, from the top down.
Unfortunately for President Bush, he cannot feign ignorance of this process, since the White House itself has released a Memorandum for the President dated Jan. 25. 2002, in which his lawyers apprised him of the seriousness of the War Crimes Act and even noted, "punishments for violations of Section 2441 include the death penalty."
That memorandum, signed by then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales (but drafted by Vice President Dick Cheney's lawyer, David Addington) warned specifically of "prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges based on Section 2441."
They then told Bush not to worry; that all he needed to do was to make a "determination that the GPW [Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War] does not apply." They added cheerily, "Your determination would create a reasonable basis in law that Section 2441 does not apply, which would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution."
It is a safe bet that Bush now wishes he had gotten a second opinion. Instead, he went ahead and signed an executive memorandum on Feb. 7, 2002, incorporating the Mafia-style advice of his lawyers. He then sent it to Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief of Staff to the President Andrew Card, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Condoleezza Rice, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.