The New York Times yesterday (12/3/08) described problems that President-elect Barack Obama faces in managing the transition at the Central Intelligence Agency. CJR‘s website has an item today (12/4/08) critical of the piece as a “dramatic example” of the Times‘ slanting its intelligence reporting toward sources who “don’t think that anyone who formulated or acquiesced in the current administration’s torture policies should be excluded as a candidate for CIA director, or prosecuted for possible violations of criminal law.” The CJR piece has some interesting back-and-forth with Times editors.
I was struck by this passage in the Times article:
Last week, John O. Brennan, a CIA veteran who was widely seen as Mr. Obama’s likeliest choice to head the intelligence agency, withdrew his name from consideration after liberal critics attacked his alleged role in the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Mr. Brennan protested that he had been a “strong opponent” within the agency of harsh interrogation tactics, yet Mr. Obama evidently decided that nominating Mr. Brennan was not worth a battle with some of his most ardent supporters on the left.
Note that Obama is not “evidently” deciding that his “most ardent supporters on the left” might have a point; he’s just deciding that it’s not worth fighting them. So Times reporters Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane seems to be implicitly siding here with the “strong opponent” of “harsh interrogation tactics” and against the “liberal critics” who “alleged” that he had a role in implementing those tactics.
It’s hard to say, of course, what actually went on inside a spy agency–or even whether Obama or Brennan really decided to take Brennan’s name out of the running–but we can take a look at what his public statements were–and Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald (11/16/08) did just that. Here’s Brennan being interviewed by CBS News (Early Show, 11/2/07):
The CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9/11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as enhanced interrogation tactics, and only a small proportion of those have in fact been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures…. There have been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives. And let’s not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents.
That doesn’t really sound like a “strong opponent” of “harsh interrogation tactics,” does it?