Comment: Is CIA Director Nominee a Hypocrite?

On January 6, I wrote that the President’s nominee for CIA Director, Leon Panetta, draws many of his intellectual positions from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party –most notably in the case of torture, of which he is a strong opponent. It is for this reason that many in the CIA hesitate to embrace Panetta, who is seen as representing “the left flank of the Democratic Party”. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that what passes as “left” in the eyes of the CIA is not necessarily –and should not be– considered “left” in the real world of politics. Leon Panetta’s stance on the practice of extraordinary rendition might be a case in point.

A few days ago, The Washington Times revealed that Republican lawmakers on the Hill are preparing to quiz Leon Panetta about his role in that controversial practice, which was institutionalized in the mid-1990s under former US President Bill Clinton. The practice involves extrajudicial kidnappings of wanted terrorism suspects by CIA or FBI paramilitaries, often abroad, followed by extrajudicial transfers of same suspects to third countries, such as Egypt or Syria, where they are usually tortured. The extracted information is then utilized by US law enforcement and intelligence agencies in their pursuit of the “war on terrorism”.

The conservative paper correctly noted that the notorious practice, which became widespread under the first George W. Bush Administration, was first implemented under Clinton. What is more, there is ample evidence that the extradition of prisoners to countries known to practice institutionalized forms of torture bore the seal of approval by the highest authority at the Clinton White House. After carefully examining all of the known early cases of extraordinary rendition, Human Rights Watch has concluded that “[t]he Clinton policy in practice meant torture”. Michael Scheuer, a former CIA official who was involved in extraordinary rendition cases during the Clinton Administrations, logically speculated that “[t]he Egyptians were not stupid. When we asked, they would not say they tortured our people. But everyone knew what was going on. The White House must have known”. 

The question is, did Leon Panetta know? And if he did, what was his personal stance on the subject? The Washington Times cites numerous Clinton Administration insiders who assert that, in his role as aide to President Clinton, Panetta was “a consumer of intelligence at the highest level”. Would it not be hypocritical of Mr. Panetta to publicly affirm that the US “cannot and […] must not use torture under any circumstances”, after failing to object to several cases of renditioned torture under Clinton? 

The paper is correct in raising this important issue. Republican lawmakers –and the left of the Democratic Party, which has remained largely silent on this case– should probe any and every inconsistency in Leon Panetta’s administrative record. However, three parameters must be considered in evaluating this issue. 

First, as the paper itself notes, “Mr. Panetta’s role in setting the overall [extraordinary rendition] policy is less clear” than one may expect. It quotes Richard A. Clarke, counterterrorism coordinator for the National Security Council under President Clinton, who says “Panetta was not in the [Oval Office] when individual cases [of rendition] were discussed”. He goes on to state that “Panetta would not have been involved in extraordinary rendition cases, which were handled by [a lower-level interagency panel called the Counterterrorism Security Group], which I chaired”. 

Second, it is possible that Panetta did object to the practice, which even at that early stage must have been controversial among members of the Executive, but failed to stop it. His political role as aide to the President was one of importance, yet with clear limits when it came to decision-making. Still, one would expect from a committed humanitarian like Mr. Panetta to have resigned his post in protest against the practice or, at the very least, dutifully expose it to the American public. If he decided that, having failed to stop it, he would try to remain close to the President in an effort to convince him to terminate it, we should be told.

Thirdly, it is likely that Panetta did once approve of the ethical compromise that is extraordinary rendition, but has since changed his mind. It is only reasonable to permit a government administrator the privilege that all of us indiscriminately exercise daily, namely the right to review our stated positions on various subjects and –either publicly or privately– revise them.

Leon Panetta’s purported role in the practice of extraordinary rendition during Bill Clinton’s Presidency does not automatically render hypocritical his stated condemnation of torture. Nevertheless, the CIA Director nominee should be expected to clarify this potential inconsistency at his Congressional hearings later on this month. Ultimately, The Washington Times revelation and subsequent editorial, though politically loaded, raise the important issue of double standards of many Democrats. It is indeed hypocritical to condemn certain intelligence procedures as unethical when practiced by a Republican Administration, and remain silent when these very same procedures are exercised under Democratic rule. Leon Panetta and his colleagues in the new Administration would do well to remember that their occasional remarks on ethical matters inevitably become part of the public record, and will come back to haunt them should they fail to uphold the moral standards they so fervently proclaim.

About intelNews
Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

11 Responses to Comment: Is CIA Director Nominee a Hypocrite?

  1. abdi says:

    in the era of fakism, not surprised

  2. F says:

    I would like to believe remarks — and more importantly actions –” will come back to haunt them should they fail to uphold the moral standards they so fervently proclaim”, but Sandy Berger’s face keeps popping into my mind’s eye. These guys are made of teflon; nothing sticks. Especially given the uncritical press that otherwise might have acted as a watchdog. No, Panetta and his ilk will do their thing free of all worries about haunting. F

  3. Brian Macker says:

    It’s obvious that water boarding is torture, but I have to laugh when Democrats bitch about Republicans on so many of these issues. I often point out to them that some prior Democrat politician was in the forefront of the exact same behavior and that they didn’t complain then.
    Republicans don’t tend to get in this mode of hypocrisy.

    If you are against torture then be against both the Republican and Democrat parties, or follow the liberal dictum of correcting your side first before moving on to the opponents. How many times have you heard someone on the left justify criticizing the U.S. while being silent on atrocities by socialist governments on the grounds that “we start at home”.

    Apparently that doesn’t apply when it comes to the Democrat party. They can be the party of Slavery (and racism), first to drop the atom bomb, first to intern based on race, first to “lie” about Saddams WMDs, etc. Yet when the Republicans do (or don’t) join in they suddenly become critics.

  4. plutosdad says:

    “was first implemented under Clinton”
    I hope this gets more publicized, I keep telling all my Democrat friends this, and they refuse to listen. You can be against it while admitting administrations from both parties have practiced this. But it’s like they want to cover their ears and say “lalala” when you try to bring it up.

    I even heard a White House press reporter repeat that extraordinary rendition was a “Bush policy”, even they can’t take 5 minutes to research.

  5. Ben franklin says:

    The Democrats are simply not sincere in anything they say or do. It is all simply geared to dupe the simpletons into voting for them. This is typical of how socialists operate. If you look at Europe as an example they do things like ratify Kyoto while not implementing its provisions or they promise aid for disaster relief but never deliver it. We won’t even get into how they can’t be bothered to adhere to the treaties they have signed and send us more than a handful of troops in Afghanistan even after we have bailed their asses out of two world wars. Having done these things in a calculating fashion they then proceed to excoriate the US.

    To the left the most important thing is that you make the right noises with your mouth. Substance or sincerity never enter the equation. It tends to get in the way of the emoting.

    BTW, if waterboarding is torture it might behoove us to stop using it as part of the training of our own soldiers. In all of this discussion about how we are going to end torture and water boarding, not once has a single person on the left mentioned our own soldiers. Their concern is limited solely to those who would do (and have done) us harm.

  6. firedward says:

    When will people wake up to the dangers that Obama is placing this country?

    I can’t stand the bias from so many Democrats about how we should rally behind him and blindly follow his doctrines.

  7. carol1977 says:

    only three days in his Presidency Obama has problems with the press who got him elected, as I write in my last article

    I admire and enjoy your blog.

    Might we exchange blogroll links?

  8. RaiulBaztepo says:

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  9. Bob97 says:

    However, the root cause is not race as Jackson would have you believe. ,

  10. Crazy48 says:

    In socialism when glen becks speaks out on Obama the only comments allowed are one sthat are for beck and against the president. ,

  11. Barbara77 says:

    You asked, I provided the data. ,

We welcome informed comments and corrections. Comments attacking or deriding the author(s), instead of addressing the content of articles, will NOT be approved for publication.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: