Gen. David Petraeus, the military hero of the Republican (and even non-Republican) masses and the current leader of U.S. Central Command, cast himself as decidedly outside the Dick Cheney school of counter-terrorism thought on Sunday.
Appearing on Meet the Press, the general made a compelling case against torturing terrorist detainees, saying he found it far more pragmatic and beneficial to stick to methods authorized by the army field manual.
"I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values. And I think that whenever we've perhaps taken expedient measures, they've turned around and bitten us in the backside. We decided early on, in the 101st airborne division, we just said, we decided to obey the Geneva Conventions...
"In the cases where that is not true [where torture takes place or international human rights groups aren't granted access to detention sites] we end up paying a price for it, ultimately," he added. "Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are non biodegradable. They don't go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick.... Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of interrogation methods in the army field manual that was given the force of law by Congress, that that works."
Petraeus wasn't done there. In another contrast with former Vice President Cheney -- as well as the vast majority of congressional Republicans -- he reiterated his support for closing Gitmo, albeit without a date-specific time frame.
"I've been on the record on that for well over a year, saying it should be closed," he said. "But it should be done in a responsible matter. So I'm not seized with the issue that it won't be done by a certain date. In fact, I think it is prudent to insure that as we move forward with that, the remaining detainees are relocated and so forth... is really thought through and done in a very pragmatic and sensible manner."
As he noted, Petraeus has held these views for some time, so it's not surprising to hear him say it again. What does stand out is how infrequently he is invoked in the political debate on torture and Gitmo. The Obama administration, after all, has the endorsement of one of the most respected military figures of the modern age on two key policy disputes. And rarely do they or others mention it.