Obama’s ‘torture’ problem: no easy way out

One of the biggest problems facing the Obama White House in handling the ‘torture’ mess is that it is not susceptible to conventional damage control techniques.

The one that Rahm Emanuel must be wishing he could use right now is to simply dump all of the existing government information on enhanced interrogations onto the public record (preferably on a warm Friday evening) and hope that, after everyone is briefly blinded by the white-hot flash of press coverage, advocacy group outrage, and cable pundit bloviation, the controversy would die down and President Obama could move on with his ambitious domestic agenda.

Former Clinton administration lawyer and P.R. strategist Lanny Davis wrote a book back in 2002 advocating this technique. “Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself” was the subtitle–overwhelm the press and the Washington political apparatus with information and hope for the best. The problem for Obama is, in this situation, he simply can’t do that, at least not in one fell swoop. While he technically has the power to declassify anything (see, e.g., Bush/Cheney/Libby’s handoff of Iraq intelligence to Judith Miller), in this instance, there are too many documents implicating too many national security interests, including informants, foreign government help to the U.S, the identities of interrogators and the like. Plus, Obama’s relations with the CIA are now sufficiently strained that he simply cannot take any hasty steps regarding future disclosures.

Telling the full story of what happened during this period is simply going to take time. And given Obama’s claim that the interrogation program made the U.S. less safe, the administration’s objectivity on the issue of what information must be left out of the public record is going to be constantly questioned. In this regard, an independent commission is probably a better vehicle for seeking maximum transparency than other more politically-charged fora. However, such a commission seems to be a non-starter for now. Perhaps the intelligence committees can get to the bottom of this, though I’m doubtful they can give a thorough look at whether members of Congress spoke up as forcefully as they could have.

If immediate and full disclosure is off the table, the next best thing for the White House is probably delay….

By Josh Gerstein
Politico
http://www.politico.com/blogs/joshg
erstein/0409/Obamas_torture_prob
lem_no_Lanny_Davis_way_out.html

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