Obama advisers: Bush era war criminals will walk

By Stephen C. Webster | Even as President-elect Obama vowed “to regain America’s moral stature in the world” during Sunday’s 60 Minutes appearance, two of his senior advisers confessed there is no intent to pursue those in the Bush administration who engaged in torture, a war crime.

Speaking on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press, the advisers said that the plan is to put a stop to current interrogation methods and to “look forward” as opposed to focusing on prior transgressions.

The Obama campaign did not offer a response before the report was published.

Human Rights Watch, a non-profit watchdog group, is lobbying the President-elect for fast action on the abuses of the Bush era.

“For far too long, the United States has undermined its ability to fight terror by adopting short-sighted policies that allowed torture and indefinite detention without charge,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a Sunday release. “The United States urgently needs President-elect Obama to live up to his commitment to right the wrongs of the last seven years, and to regain the moral high ground in the fight against terrorism.”

The group is pushing for Obama to bring Guantanamo detainees into the United States court system, and admit released prisoners into the country if it is feared they may be subject to torture upon returning home. They are also calling for an executive order to require the CIA to follow the US military’s interrogation rules, and the establishment of an investigatory “truth commission” with subpoena power to enforce standing laws against US war criminals.

However, if the top candidate for Obama’s Central Intelligence Agency is any indication, the activists may soon be disappointed. The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan, citing a report by Mark Ambinder that Obama is close to appointing John Brennon, who served under former CIA Director George Tenet, Sullivan decried it as, “change we cannot believe in.”

“Appointing Brennan to the CIA does not mean change from Bush,” he wrote. “That was absolutely a critical part of Obama’s message. With Brennan, we get the taint of a Bush and two-facedness of a Clinton. We need to say goodbye to all that, not perpetuate its double-speak.”

Tenet was director of the agency when it was admitted that several prisoners were subjected to waterboarding: a form of torture that simulates the experience of drowning.

“[Obama believes] torture not be allowed in any form or fashion in any part of the federal government, and he would make sure that was the case,” said Brennan to CQ Politics. “Whether the Army field manual is comprehensive enough to cover all those tactics and techniques, that’s something I think he’d look to his national security advisers for.”

Blogger and filmmaker Glenn Greenwald is skeptical too.

“Brennan has been and continues to be an extremely important adviser for Obama on intelligence issues,” he wrote. “His views on past administration conduct are, in many important instances, clearly disturbing and bear watching.”

Alleged 9/11 ‘mastermind’ Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is one such prisoner that was admittedly tortured. The American Civil Liberties Union warned Monday that Bush may try to “sabotage” Obama by “ramming through” the Mohammed tribunal. On Saturday it was also revealed that senior intelligence officials are lobbying President Bush to preemptively pardon intelligence agents who committed war crimes: an unprecedented act.

Nevertheless, one campaign meme — “hope” — has yet to flicker out for human rights activists.

“We are confident that consistent with his message of change, his actions and his criticism, he is going to repudiate the abusive counterterrorism policies of the Bush administration,” Joanne Mariner with Human Rights Watch told IPS News.