The Campaign Spot

What Did Leon Panetta Know About Clinton-Era ‘Extraordinary Rendition’?

Last night, I guest hosted The Hugh Hewitt Show for a second time, and it was even more enjoyable than the first time.

All of my guests were great – thanks to Howard Kurtz, Mary Katherine Ham, and Rob Bluey – but in particular, Eli Lake of the Washington Times broke some news about a story he has in today’s paper, a fascinating expose of President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for CIA director, Leon Panetta, served as White House chief of staff during the time the Clinton administration accelerated a practice of kidnapping terrorist suspects and sending them to countries with records of torturing prisoners.

“Extraordinary rendition”, as the practice is referred to today, “took place dozens of times under the Clinton administration and rose dramatically after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to human rights organizations and former national security officials.”

The topic is certain to come up in Panetta’s confirmation hearing. And Panetta is probably going to have to face a tough choice: Acknowledge that he knew this was going on, and saw nothing wrong with it; or deny that he knew it was going on. As noted in Lake’s article:

Mr. Panetta’s role in setting the overall policy is less clear. [Michael] Scheuer, [chief of the CIA unit that tracked Osama bin Laden from 1995 to 1999], who opposes the Panetta nomination to head the CIA, said, “You can’t have it both ways. If Leon Panetta was involved in national security policies, he is also responsible for the more brutal end of the rendition program. If he was not involved, then there is no reason to believe he is competent to do the job.”

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