I have a new piece up at Time.com putting some context around my posts on the question of forcing the CIA to use the Army Field Manual (AFM) for interrogations. As it stands, no Democrat is willing to take credit for the idea of abandoning the effort to force an AFM standard on the CIA. After some confusion this week, Dianne Feinstein, who will head the Intel Committee, has made clear she still wants the AFM standard, which she has led the fight to impose. She plans to reintroduce the AFM standard bill early next year. That said, she has also expressed a willingness to talk about other approaches, if Obama so chooses. But Obama would have to back out of a campaign pledge to do that, and his people are not saying anything to suggest such a move. Orgeon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, meanwhile, who also sits on the Intel Committee, says through a spokesman that there might be a “better” standard than the AFM.
Meanwhile, a couple human rights lobbyists and a couple of the retired generals who oppose harsh interrogations tell me they are not so worried about drafting a new standard that is not the Army Field Manual, as long as the new policy continues to stick to the principle that the U.S. will not do anything to our enemies that we do not want done to us–an idea called the “Golden Rule.” There are a couple issues here. The first is the idea of turf. Should the CIA be required to follow military rules, or can they draft something different but still acceptable?
The second issue is the space between what is prohibited by torture statutes and the Geneva Convention under a conventional reading of the law, and what the AFM permits. One person explained it to me this way: Imagine a football field with the goal line being the harshest interrogation techniques that are allowed under domestic and international laws and treaties. Most people agree that the Bush Administration has been operating deep within the end zone (if not in the bleachers) for years, with unconventional interpretations of what the law means. Everyone expects Obama to put a stop to that.
But the AFM, which is designed for use by the military, stops short of the goal line. We can call it about 80 yards down field. One question is, Should the CIA, in select circumstances, be able to use specific techniques or approaches that are allowed under a reasonable reading of the law, and even the Golden Rule standard, but not included in the AFM? In the past, Democrats saw this idea as a non-starter, because they did not trust Bush or his deputies to be reasonable, and the AFM was the only acceptable interrogation rulebook that was around to bind the administration’s hands. But there is more trust for Obama.
The tricky part is that no Democrat is currently claiming to be discussing this second issue right now. Feinstein says she still wants the AFM standard, and will try to pass the AFM standard, but is willing to talk about other ideas. Wyden says he is open to something “better.” And the nascent Obama Administration is still taking meetings, trying to figure out a plan, and not saying a word. Meanwhile, the intelligence community, which has a major seat at this table, is doing what it always does–working in the shadows.