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The Takeaway From Leon Panetta’s Op-Ed

Read Marcy Wheeler for a blistering takedown of CIA Director Leon Panetta’s Washington Post op-ed yesterday. The short version of Panetta’s argument is that he proved his good faith by informing Congress about the “significant actions” he shuttered, but Congress reacted with “a fresh round of recriminations about the past.” Stop the violence!

The op-ed itself is a jumble of different points, from the idea that Congress and the intelligence community need to come to a “balance” over the role of each to a plea not to investigate or prosecute “public servants who did their duty pursuant to the legal guidance provided” on — he doesn’t specify, but — torture or warrantless surveillance or other stuff. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) may have Panetta shook. So what to make of this?

All of Panetta’s mishmash of points go in one direction. It’s all stuff CIA wants to hear in an era of tumult and possible criminal investigation. Just count all the chest-puffing references to how rad the agency is. “Our present tools are effective, we use them aggressively to go after our enemies, and Congress has been briefed on them. … The men and women of the CIA truly are America’s first line of defense. … The time has come for both Democrats and Republicans to take a deep breath and recognize the reality of what happened after Sept. 11, 2001.” If there remains doubt that Panetta could be a forceful advocate for an agency that he didn’t really have much experience with, the op-ed ought to remove it. It reads like an attempt to stick up for his troops against a particularly annoying Democratic Congress.

Except for one thing. Read this paragraph:

The time has come for both Democrats and Republicans to take a deep breath and recognize the reality of what happened after Sept. 11, 2001. The question is not the sincerity or the patriotism of those who were dealing with the aftermath of Sept. 11. The country was frightened, and political leaders were trying to respond as best they could. Judgments were made. Some of them were wrong. But that should not taint those public servants who did their duty pursuant to the legal guidance provided. The last election made clear that the public wanted to move in a new direction.

That’s not sticking up for the frontline interrogators who carried out the abusive treatment of, say, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. That’s Panetta sticking up for the CIA senior leadership under George Tenet who helped design, implement and protect it. And that’s much different from what Panetta’s said in the past.

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