Here’s one thing that bears mentioning now that it appears Leon Panetta is President-elect Barack Obama’s to head the CIA. Given the worries about whether John Brennan might have been too soft on torture — put aside the merits of that contention for a moment — no one can have that fear about Panetta. Here’s something he wrote about torture for the Washington Monthly last year:
We cannot simply suspend [American ideals of human rights] in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground.
We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.
True, every member of the Bush administration has said that they disapprove of torture while torturing people. So we’ll have to wait for Panetta’s confirmation hearings to know specifically what he thinks of, say, waterboarding or rendition. But as a statement of principle, that seems pretty reflective of a strong commitment to human rights and civil liberties.