Leon Panetta, President Obama's pick to head the CIA, testified Thursday that he believes the harsh interrogation technique known as water-boarding is torture and vowed to end an era in which the CIA's conduct drew condemnation from around the world.
"I believe that water-boarding is torture and it's wrong," he said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Panetta's comments were the most forceful denunciation to date of the CIA's methods by a member of Obama's intelligence team and came during a hearing that was marked by pointed exchanges over Bush administration counterterrorism policies.
At one point, Panetta took a verbal shot at former Vice President Dick Cheney, who suggested this week that Obama's decisions to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to ban harsh interrogation methods risked the nation's security. "I was disappointed by those comments," he said. "The implication is that somehow this country is more vulnerable to attack because the president of this country wants to abide by the law and the Constitution."
Nevertheless, Panetta said he did not believe CIA officers who engaged in water-boarding or other harsh interrogation methods should be prosecuted, saying they were following orders from the Bush White House and legal guidance from the Department of Justice. Panetta is expected to be confirmed as early as this week.
Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis became the latest Cabinet nominee to face questions about unpaid taxes as a Senate panel abruptly postponed a vote on her confirmation.
It came after revelations that Solis' husband, Sam Sayyad, settled tax liens on his California auto repair business this week that had been outstanding for as long as 16 years. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Solis and Sayyad were unaware of the liens until asked about them this week. He said Sayyad paid about $6,400, but plans to appeal.
It posed another political headache for a White House already chafing after three other nominee's tax problems. Asked if the Solis nomination was in trouble, House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "I don't believe it is at all."
Declaring that "there is a force for good greater than government," President Obama established a White House office of faith-based initiatives with a broader mission than the one overseen by his GOP predecessor.
Obama said the new office, which he created by executive order and will be run by Joshua DuBois, 26, a Pentecostal minister, would reach out to organizations that provide help "no matter their religious or political beliefs." He said the office would work with nonprofits and would help them determine how to make a bigger impact in their cities, learn their obligations under the law and cut through government red tape.
Obama's order expanded and redefined a similar office established by President George W. Bush. The Bush office sparked questions about whether the separation of church and state would be preserved, particularly if groups receiving tax dollars sought to hire on the basis of religion.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and People For the American Way expressed disappointment in the Obama version. All said that the White House will allow participating religious groups to continue discrimination in hiring.