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6 Feb, 2009 03:02

New head of CIA - same old techniques?

President Obama has nominated Leon Panetta, a former democratic congressman with no intelligence experience, to be director of the CIA. But will it actually bring changes to the agency’s harsh interrogation techniques?

In choosing Panetta, Obama has passed over current and former CIA officials with impressive credentials. The other candidates had worked in Intelligence when Bush's government was interrogating terror suspects and even before 9/11.

Panetta, a former congressman and White House chief of staff to then-President Bill Clinton, is no stranger to Washington.

Even though critics say he lacks experience in security matters, Leon Panetta might bring a new attitude to the CIA. A strong supporter of Obama’s ideas, he opposes torture and is very critical over the former administration’s tactics.

In his first few days in office, President Obama has ordered the controversial Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility in Cuba and secret CIA prisons to be closed.

He is also going to continue carrying out the practise of renditions – extracting a person from one country and transferring to another in order to try them for supposed crimes.

Renditions were made notorious by the Bush administration because of their use of torture when trying alleged terrorists. That caused a lot of criticism and anger around the world and in the US itself.

The former president, however, had his own explanation to the issue: “This government does not torture people,” said Bush.

“We stick to US law and our international obligations. There are highly trained professionals questioning these extremists and terrorists. In other words, we got professionals who are trained in this kind of work to get information that will protect the American people. And by the way, we have gotten information from these high-value detainees that have helped protect you.”

No wonder that now, when President Obama uses the same rhetoric commenting on the same topic, some people get nervous.

“I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture, and I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world,” Obama said.

Meanwhile, a scandal is brewing in the UK over a resident held in the Guantanamo bay prison camp, where he has allegedly been tortured.

British court backed a government request not to release information on the man – contrary to demands from the man's lawyers. According to the British Foreign Secretary David Milliband, if made public it could undermine the country's national security.