Dealing with the issue of torture will also be complicated. Waterboarding is a brutal interrogation method, but by some (disputed) accounts, it was CIA waterboarding that got Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to talk. It is a liberal shibboleth that torture doesn't work -- that suspects will say anything, including lies, to stop the pain. But the reality is perhaps less clear. Last summer, the U.S. Senate (with Obama absent) voted to require the CIA to use no interrogation methods other than those permitted in the Army Field Manual. These are extremely restrictive: strictly speaking, the interrogator cannot ever threaten bodily harm or even put a prisoner on cold rations until he talks. Bush vetoed this measure, not unwisely. As president, Obama may want to preserve some flexibility. Obama may want to urge Congress to outlaw "humiliating and degrading" treatment of prisoners. But he might also want to carve out an exception for extreme cases, outlining coercive methods, like sleep deprivation, that could be used on specified detainees. To provide political accountability, the president should be required to sign any such orders, share them with the congressional intelligence committees and publicly disclose their number.
National security is an unavoidably murky world. But it doesn't have to be quite so dark as Cheney et al. made it. So much of the anger against the Bush administration could have been avoided if Bush had gone to Congress in the first place. By trying to strengthen the presidency, Cheney weakened it. By keeping Congress, the press and the people in the dark, the vice president virtually guaranteed a backlash. Obviously, some secrets must be kept, but history has shown again and again that excessive government secrecy backfires by breeding conspiracy theories and overreaction by thwarted lawmakers. Obama would do well just to level with the American people about what he is doing to protect their liberties -- while keeping them safe.
(Read cover story at www.Newsweek.com)