Last week, the LA Times published a story asserting that President Obama “left intact” the CIA’s authority to carry out extraordinary renditions. (The unfounded claim was thoroughly debunked.) At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, Leon Panetta, Obama’s pick to head the CIA, declared decisively that the CIA would not carry out extraordinary renditions:
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Will the CIA continue the practice of extraordinary rendition by which the government will transfer a detainee to either a foreign government or a black site for the purpose of long-term detention and interrogation, as opposed to for law enforcement purposes?
PANETTA: No we will not.
Panetta made the distinction between “extraordinary rendition” to indefinitely hold detainees for interrogation — and torture — and law enforcement rendition. As Scott Horton wrote, the earlier rendition program under President Clinton “regularly involved snatching and removing targets for purposes of bringing them to justice by delivering them to a criminal justice system. It did not involve the operation of long-term detention facilities and it did not involve torture.”
FEINSTEIN: Will the CIA continue the practice of extraordinary rendition by which the government will transfer a detainee to either a foreign government or a black site for the purpose of long-term detention and interrogation, as opposed to for law enforcement purposes?
PANETTA: No we will not because under the executive order signed by the president, that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purposes of torture or for actions by another country that violate our human values — that has been forbidden by the executive order.
When Sen. Richard Burr asked Panetta if the president had the authority to order torture, Panetta replied, “No one is above the law”:
I understand the powers that the president has under Article II, and they are broad powers, but nobody is above the law. Nobody is above the law. And I think that even the President of the United States has to abide by the statutes and by the laws passed by the Congress. So yes, he has broad authority under Article II, but I do not think he can violate the laws of this country.
,Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) read aloud part of Dick Cheney’s comments to Politico yesterday, in which he insisted that the United States was less safe under President Obama. Panetta responded:
I was disappointed by those comments because the implication is that somehow this country is more vulnerable to attack because the President of the United States wants to abide by the law and the Constitution. I think we’re a stronger nation when we abide by the law and the Constitution.