For all of his liberal positions on the environment, taxes and health care, President Barack Obama is a hawk when it comes to the war on terror.
From deadly drones to secret interrogations to withholding evidence in terror lawsuits, Obama's Democratic White House has followed the path of his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush. The U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remains open, despite Obama's pledge to close it, and his administration has pursued leaks of classified information to reporters even more aggressively than Bush's.
"They have maintained momentum in a lot of important areas that we were focused on, and they've continued to build in those areas," said Ken Wainstein, the White House homeland security adviser and a top Justice Department lawyer under Bush. "You can see an appreciation for the severity of the threat, the need to stand up to it, and the need to go on offense at times."
John Brennan's confirmation hearing this week to be CIA director showed just how much Washington — and especially Democrats — has come to accept the same counterterrorism policies that drew such furor in the first years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Brennan refused to call waterboarding a form of torture but called it "reprehensible" and, if CIA director, said he would not allow it. He also said he didn't know whether any valuable information was gleaned as a result. His more than three hours of testimony was received by a mostly friendly panel of senators, and his confirmation is expected to move forward soon.
In October 2007, by contrast, Bush's attorney general nominee, Judge Michael Mukasey, called waterboarding "repugnant" but also refused to say whether it was torture. His confirmation was delayed for three weeks and nearly derailed. No one expects Brennan not to be confirmed.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama has stopped or softened a number of Bush's security tactics, including ending harsh interrogations, closing secret prisons and, overall, trying to be more transparent about counterterror policy. But he noted that Obama has delivered on his campaign promises to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, take the battle to al-Qaida in Pakistan and Yemen before its members can attack the U.S., and to end the war in Iraq.
"Yes, we're still fighting al-Qaida, but I think there are very few people who would take issue with that," Vietor said Friday. "This president does what he says he's going to do, and I think that's noticed around the world."
Obama's embrace of many of Bush's counterterror policies did not hurt him in his re-election bid last year. In one key rejection of Bush's legacy, Obama repeatedly has said he believes waterboarding — the interrogation tactic that simulates drowning — is torture and illegal and that it will not be used under his watch.
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