President Barack Obama has moved more forcefully than ever to abandon Bush administration interrogation policies, approving creation of a special White House unit for questioning terrorism suspects, as Attorney General Eric Holder weighs a Justice Department recommendation to reopen and pursue prisoner abuse cases.
A senior administration official told The Associated Press Monday that Obama has approved establishment of the new unit, to be known as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which will be overseen by the National Security Council.
I hope this report is false, because here’s what the administration is doing if this is true:
The National Security Council is a committee that exists to advise the president on matters of national security. By law, it consists of the president, vice-president, and the secretaries of State and Defense. The law also designates the CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs as advisers to the NSC. Others, such as the National Security Adviser and the Chief of Staff, as well as everyone’s deputies, are often invited to attend, but have no statutory role.
The point is, the NSC is a committee of cabinet-level officials. It is not set up to run anything; it exists to help the president make policy. The chain of command for this new interrogation unit cannot run through the NSC.
In other words, President Obama, in response to concerns about the conduct of interrogations, is creating a new interrogation unit answerable only to the president. This is a bad idea. It should be plainly obvious that you cannot curb misconduct by limiting oversight. Also, it seems almost designed to maximize interagency strife to have interrogations conducted by an isolated group.
UPDATE: Ishmael Jones has a contrary view.