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Newsweek’s Stuart Taylor and Evan Thomas take a look at Obama’s promises to roll back the ‘excesses of Executive Power’ that were the hallmark of the Bush administration (at least in the eyes of liberals like the writers at Newsweek). They conclude that Obama might not be able to take us back to September 10, because those ‘excesses’ might just be necessary to keep us safe:
…At a retirement ceremony recently for a top-level intelligence official, the senior spooks in the room gave each other high-fives. They were celebrating the fact that terrorists have not attacked the United States since 9/11. In the view of many intelligence professionals, the get-tough measures encouraged or permitted by George W. Bush’s administration—including “waterboarding” self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—kept America safe. Cheney himself has been underscoring the point in a round of farewell interviews. “If I had advice to give it would be, before you start to implement your campaign rhetoric, you need to sit down and find out precisely what it is we did and how we did it, because it is going to be vital to keeping the nation safe and secure in the years ahead,” he told CBS Radio.
In times of war and crisis, as presidents such as Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt discovered, the nation needs a strong chief executive. The flaw of the Bush-Cheney administration may have been less in what it did than in the way it did it—flaunting executive power, ignoring Congress, showing scorn for anyone who waved the banner of civil liberties. Arguably, there has been an overreaction to the alleged arrogance and heedlessness of Bush and Cheney—especially Cheney, who almost seemed to take a grim satisfaction in his Darth Vader-esque image. The courts, at first slow to respond to arrogations of executive power after September 11, have pushed back. Many federal officials have grown risk-averse, fearing that they will be prosecuted or dragged before a congressional committee for fighting too hard against terrorism. (A growing number of CIA officials buy insurance policies to cover legal fees…)
In Obama’s spirit of nonpartisanship, the new crowd would do well to listen to Jack Goldsmith, formerly a Bush Justice Department official, now a Harvard Law School professor. At Justice, Goldsmith was the head of an obscure but critically important unit called the Office of Legal Counsel. OLC acts as a kind of lawyer for the executive branch, offering opinions—close to binding—on what the executive branch can and cannot do. It was an OLC lawyer, John Yoo, who in 2001 and 2002 drafted many of the memos that first gave the Cheneyites permission to do pretty much whatever they wanted in the way of interrogating and detaining suspected terrorists (and eavesdropping on Americans to catch terrorists). Goldsmith, who became head of OLC in 2003, quietly began to revoke some of these permissions as illegal or unconstitutional. The revolt of Goldsmith and some other principled Justice lawyers was a heroic story, kept secret at the time. Now Goldsmith worries about the pendulum swinging too far, as it often does in American democracy. “The presidency has already been diminished in ways that would be hard to reverse” and may be losing its capability to fight terrorism, he says. He argues that Americans should now be “less worried about an out-of-control presidency than an enfeebled one.”
Go read the whole thing. Newsweek would never have stated before the election that ‘the issue of torture is more complicated than it seems,’ nor would they have explained that trying suspected Al Qaeda operatives in U.S. courts is not an attractive option. When it comes to torture, Newsweek is starting to sound a lot like the Bush administration: they argue that limiting interrogators to the tactics outlined in the Army Field Manual would be unwise, and they even leave room for torture in the event of a ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario.
None of this is surprising of course; it’s all part of the double standard to which liberals must resort now that Barack Obama is taking charge of the War on Terror.