Tuesday, January 6, 2009

CIA and Justice Dept Appointments

By Ben Trott

Obama yesterday made official some of the last remaining high-profile nominations before his inauguration on January 20. Former Democratic Congressman and Clinton-era White House Chief of Staff, Leon E. Panetta was named CIA Director. Panetta, who according to the New York Times’ ‘Caucus’ blog, linked to above, has little experience in the worlds of intelligence or counter-terrorism, will occupy the post earlier expected to be held by John Brennan. Brennan was forced to withdraw his name from consideration after concerns were raised over his association with certain interrogation methods.

Times article argued,
‘Given his background, Mr. Panetta is a somewhat unusual choice to lead the C.I.A., an agency that has been unwelcoming to previous directors perceived as outsiders, such as Stansfield M. Turner and John M. Deutch. But his selection points up the difficulty Mr. Obama had in finding a C.I.A. director with no connection to controversial counterterrorism programs of the Bush era.’
A lengthy biographical article about Panetta can be found on the website of the Panetta Institute, of which he is Director.

The announcement of four of the top Justice Department jobs, all of which will require Senate confirmation, also saw the nomination of individuals who had served in the Clinton administration. A separate article, elsewhere on the New York Times' 'Caucus' blog said,
‘The records and public statements of the four nominees named by Mr. Obama suggest a sharp break from the legal policies of the past eight years in a number of key areas, including the detention, interrogation and surveillance of terrorism suspects.’
Dawn Johnsen, an Indiana University law school professor, is to be nominated to run the Office of Legal Counsel. David Ogden, a law firm partner and earlier senior official in the Clinton Justice Department, will be nominated Deputy Attorney General. The Dean of Harvard Law School, Elena Kagan, who served as a legal advisor and associate counsel during the Clinton administration will be nominated as Solicitor General. She will, according the Times,
‘argue the administration’s positions on a number of critical issues before the Supreme Court, from the detention of enemy combatants to voting rights and religious displays.’
Tom Perelli will be nominated as Associate Attorney General. Perrelli is a Managing Partner at the Jenny & Block law firm where he is described as having regularly represented the recording industry 'in cutting-edge intellectual property, technology, and anti-piracy litigation.'

The latter of the two Times articles mentioned above came in for criticism from Harper's magazine's excellent blogger, Scott Horton. Horton took the piece, it's author Eric Lichtblau, and the paper's editors to task for describing the Office of Legal Counsel as having become controversial during the Bush administration 'because of its legal defense of practices bordering on torture'. Horton wrote,
'Got that? John Yoo and Steven Bradbury were defending practices “bordering on torture.” We’re talking about waterboarding, hypothermia, long-time standing, the use of psychotropic drugs and burying people in a box for prolonged periods, among other things.

Times editors: read your own pages. When Russia used the practice of stoika in the Stalin era, you called it “torture.” It is. Why does it become “bordering on torture” when the Bush Administration uses it? When the Nazis used the practice of Pfahlbinden during World War II, you called it “torture.” So when Bush uses it, suddenly it becomes “bordering on torture”? By consciously softening your language, you are allowing those who introduced torture to escape the opprobrium that is their due. Moreover, you are enabling torture. Your readers deserve better.'

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