Editor’s Note: Though this story by our colleagues at ProPublica isn’t quite within the confines of what we normally cover here on MainStreet, we decided to post it in recognition of the Sept. 11 anniversary and because we think it’s important stuff in general.
By Emily Witt, ProPublica
As president-elect in late 2008, Barack Obama promised to “regain America’s moral stature in the world” by ending some of the Bush administration’s most controversial counterterrorism policies.
So with President Obama nearly two-thirds through his first year in office, what exactly has changed? Abusive interrogations have been banned, but renditions to other countries will continue. The prison at Guantanamo Bay has been ordered closed, but that hasn’t proven easy to do. Meanwhile, prisoners at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan — even those detained in other countries -- can still be held without charge. Memos on CIA interrogation practices have been released, but the details of some programs are still smothered in the name of national security.
In sum, there are clear differences between Bush and Obama, but some policies have stayed the same. (Our earlier comparison involving national-security lawsuits likewise found similar positions.) Here’s our rundown of the differences and the similarities.
In 2002, Bush declared that the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply to the stateless, plainclothes "unlawful enemy combatants" of al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Department of Justice then sanctioned interrogation methods such as waterboarding and forced nudity. After Congress and the Supreme Court curbed the administration’s policy, Bush signed an executive order in 2007 allowing the CIA to continue using some harsh tactics.
On his first day in office, Obama revoked Bush’s executive order and limited interrogation tactics to those outlined in the Army Field Manual.
In August, an administration task force recommended creating an interagency group, composed of experienced interrogators and housed within the FBI, that would conduct some interrogations and develop a set of best practices for others.
The Obama administration has taken a clear stance against using evidence obtained through torture or coercion. Attorney General Eric Holder has also appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA interrogators overseas broke the law, although he has said he will not prosecute anyone who followed the Bush administration’s interrogation guidelines.
Rendition and CIA Black Sites
Beginning in 2002, the Bush administration expanded what’s known as extraordinary rendition. Through the program, CIA agents abducted and transported terrorism suspects to countries such as Egypt and Afghanistan for interrogation. During the same period, the CIA also operated its own secret prisons, or "black sites," abroad.