This morning, President-elect Obama announced his selections for top intelligence posts including Leon Panetta for CIA Director and Dennis Blair for Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Surprisingly, Obama also announced that he would at least partially rely on the guidance of the current DNI, Mike McConnell. McConnell will “continue to offer his counsel through my Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board,” Obama said.
In some instances, McConnell has shown himself to be an independent actor, such as in the case of the 2007 NIE that found that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program. In that case, McConnell resisted pressure from the White House to change the NIE’s conclusions. After the NIE’s release, McConnell actively pushed back against right-wing attacks on the intelligence community’s findings.
In other cases, however, McConnell has also been a key defender of some of the Bush administration’s most egregious violations of civil and human rights. Last night on Charlie Rose, for example, McConnell defended the Bush administration’s expanded use of extraordinary-rendition on enemy combatants. He claimed such renditions never resulted in torture:
ROSE: Let me just make one point. Some people believe that renditions are a way for Americans to send people that they want to interrogate to another place, where they will do interrogations that the Americans would not do themselves. … Including torture.
MCCONNELL: [T]hat is not consistent with our law, or our intent or our behavior. … And since 2001, until now, there have been fewer than 100 — fewer than 100 renditions. … Now, you used the word torture. I would not use that word. … I would use the word interrogation.
In fact, as Jane Mayer documented, McConnell cannot credibly argue that rendered terrorism suspects were not tortured. Mayer wrote for the New Yorker, “The most common destinations for rendered suspects are Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and Jordan, all of which have been cited for human-rights violations by the State Department, and are known to torture suspects.”
Human Rights Watch found that at lesat 14 individuals have been rendered to Jordan and placed in the custody the Jordanian intelligence service. The Jordanian government beat the detainees severely and threatened detainees with electrocution, dogs, and even rape. Rendered detainees are rarely charged with crimes and on several occasions have been cases of mistaken identity.