WSJ Insists Obama Is Leaving Door Open For A ‘Jack Bauer Exception’ To His Torture Ban

Yesterday, President Obama signed an executive order banning the use of torture in all military and CIA interrogations of suspected terrorists. The order specifically revoked the legal memos written by the Bush administration to justify the use of torture on detainees.

Today, the Wall Street Journal editorializes that Obama “wants to have it both ways on torture,” saying he will ban it but simultaneously carve out legal loopholes for coercive techniques to be used in an emergency:

The unfine print of Mr. Obama’s order is that he’s allowed room for what might be called a Jack Bauer exception. It creates a committee to study whether the Field Manual techniques are too limiting “when employed by departments or agencies outside the military.” The Attorney General, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Director of National Intelligence-designate Dennis Blair will report back and offer “additional or different guidance for other departments or agencies.” […]

The “special task force” may well grant the CIA more legal freedom to squeeze information out of terrorists when it could keep the country safe.

Despite the Wall Street Journal’s foreboding intonations, Obama made it clear yesterday that the era of coercive interrogations had come to an end. Speaking to the State Department he said firmly, “I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture.”


News organizations appeared skeptical of Obama’s torture ban. The LA Times and the Washington Post noted that Obama “appeared to leave an opening for the CIA to again have expanded authority,” but administration officials insisted that the commission set to review interrogation and detention policies was not a loophole to allow the use of torture:

Administration officials emphasized that there was no intent to create a loophole.

“This is not a secret annex that allows us to bring the enhanced interrogation techniques back,” said a senior Obama administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing legal strategies. “It’s not.”

An administration official emphasized to the Washington Post, “We’re not talking about different techniques.”


Greg Sargent notes that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will continue to try to pass legislation specifically limiting CIA interrogations to the Army Field Manual. If passed, it would be more difficult to overturn than an executive order.