Last fall, it seemed as if the White House had finally lost its fight to make sure the CIA could continue its program of interrogating al-Qaida types using coercive, harsh techniques. Congress had passed the 2006 Military Commissions Act, outlawing abuse using strict language that human rights groups thought even White House lawyers might not be able to turn into Swiss cheese.
So experts on the Geneva Conventions were shocked when President Bush signed that bill last October. "This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives," Bush said in the East Room of the White House. Huh?
That law allows the president to sign an executive order that explains exactly how the CIA program might continue, given the constraints of the new law. Today, Bush signed that executive order.
It's unclear, so far, exactly what interrogation techniques the White House thinks the executive order will allow the CIA to use on so-called high-value detainees. But there are a few early clues in the text that the agency is getting new wiggle room. "The Director of Central Intelligence shall issue written policies to govern the program," the order says. I wonder if we'll get a look at those? I'm guessing no.