Human Rights Group: Obama Left Wiggle Room On Torture

Craig Brown

The Washington Post blog is reporting tonight:

Did President Obama’s executive order
today banning torture leave wiggle room for the possibility of
reverting to coercive techniques that the current exec order outlaws?

Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, tells me he thinks the answer is Yes.

Obama strongly repudiated torture as he signed today’s executive
order, which mandates that the Army Field Manual be strictly adhered to
during interrogations. But Ratner pointed to the following lines in the
executive order that, he said, provided a possible loophole by creating
a Task Force to study the issue:

The mission of the Special Task Force shall be:

(1) to study and evaluate whether the interrogation practices and
techniques in Army Field Manual 2-22.3, when employed by departments or
agencies outside the military, provide an appropriate means of
acquiring the intelligence necessary to protect the Nation, and, if
warranted, to recommend any additional or different guidance for other
departments or agencies …

The key there, Ratner says, is that the exec order appears to allow
for an evaluation as to “whether” — a key word — the Army Field Manual
techniques are sufficent to “protect the nation.” That, he says, allows
for the Task Force to find after studying the issue that there may be
cases where it’s acceptable to go beyond the Army Field Manual.

“It would allow the Task Force to go beyond the Army Field Manual,”
Ratner told me. He added that this allowed for at least the possibility
that the administration could conclude that “based on the
recommendations of this commission, we will allow certain techniques to
be used in certain circumstances.”

“It buys into the argument that somehow more severe [interrogation
techniques] are going to somehow get at information that the Army field
Manual is able to get at,” he continued, adding that it was tantamount
to saying that “we’ll make an exception if there’s some kind of need to
do so to get information.”

CIA agents are expected to be skeptical of this executive order, and
Ratner says he hopes that these lines were put in there as a “sop” to
the CIA. Nonetheless, he termed the inclusion of the “loophole” as

“I don’t like the fact that there’s any kind of loophole in an executive order that supposedly outlaws torture,” Ratner says.

One other data point: Today’s New York Times reports that White House counsel Gregory Craig,
who’s in the thick of these decisions, privately told Congressional
officials yesterday that “the White House might be open to allowing the
use of methods other the 19 techniques allowed for the military,” as
the paper put it.

More on this soon.

Posted by Greg Sargent

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