Panetta to CIA: 'We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances'


How did someone like Leon Panetta, former chief of staff in the Clinton administration, with no career background in intelligence, get tapped to be the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency?

He earned it -- in a number of ways, but especially when he recently wrote this in the Atlantic Monthly:

We have preached these values to the world. We have made clear that there are certain lines Americans will not cross because we respect the dignity of every human being. That pledge was written into the oath of office given to every president, "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution." It's what is supposed to make our leaders different from every tyrant, dictator, or despot. We are sworn to govern by the rule of law, not by brute force.

We cannot simply suspend these beliefs in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don't. There is no middle ground.

We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.

God knows the Obama team has had a couple of swings and misses here in the transition, and a big whiff with the Bill Richardson, but late in the game they're hit a home run with this selection and with his late appointments to the Justice Department, all of whom seem committed to human rights and to the Constitution.

Panetta's words show he truly wants to bring change to the intelligence community, and his experience as a top governmental official who understands the kind of information that's useful to the White House should help him carry it out. He's not a career spy? So what? We don't pick a career military person, generally, as Secretary of Defense, so maybe the CIA should be treated the same way.

Look at George H.W. Bush, who ran the CIA in 1975-76 and had their building named after him -- he wasn't a career spy (was he?). I just wish that all of Obama's Cabinet choices had sent as clear a signal as this one.