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The Politics of Confusion

The Obama administration must be an interesting place to work. The president signs an executive order banning enhanced interrogation techniques, but leaves open the door for exceptions. Eric Holder declares water-boarding to be torture. Then Leon Panetta comes along:

Under insistent questioning from a Senate panel, Mr. Panetta said that in extreme cases, if interrogators were unable to extract critical information from a terrorism suspect, he would seek White House approval for the C.I.A. to use methods that would go beyond those permitted under the new rules.

“If we had a ticking bomb situation, and obviously, whatever was being used I felt was not sufficient, I would not hesitate to go to the president of the United States and request whatever additional authority I would need,” Mr. Panetta said in his nomination hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

He gave no specifics about what interrogation methods he would suggest, but he said that the agency would always abide by the law. He also said he believed that interrogators could reliably get information from detainees using non-coercive means.

“We can protect this country, we can get the information we need, we can provide for the security of the American people and we can abide by the law,” Mr. Panetta said. “I’m absolutely convinced that we can do that.”

But he also agreed that water-boarding is torture.  So what exactly would he ask the president in a ticking-time-bomb situation to do? It really is not clear — aside from all the misdirection and sanctimonious photo-ops — how this in practice would work out any differently than the Bush administration’s rules. This is not exactly the model of transparency. Confusion, maybe. Double talk — definitely.



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