Paul Greenberg

Our brave new president has wasted no time issuing an executive order barring torture of any suspected terrorists.

But does it?

The order and its effect were mud-clear by the time Barack Obama's designated chief of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, got through not explaining it.

For one opaque thing, Admiral Blair said he wasn't going to say whether waterboarding, or simulated drowning, was torture. Which is a non-position remarkably similar to that of the previous administration, which this order ostensibly revokes.

Welcome to the blindingly bright fog that is the developing/enveloping Obama administration. So new and already so murky.

Waterboarding actually hasn't been used by the CIA for years. When it was used in three high-profile cases, including that of the notorious Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind and organizer of the September 11th attacks, it is said to have produced a remarkable change of attitude in these heretofore recalcitrant subjects. Also, a wealth of information that saved who knows how many innocent lives.

What a transformation: defiant killers into eager informants. It's understandable why the next chief of national intelligence isn't about to make any hasty interpretation of this new executive order lest he surrender an approach his predecessors found so useful'before they proceeded to bar it. At least officially. At least for now. Will it be kept in reserve?

There is no clear answer to that question, which is why this administration would be better off not offering so many unclear ones.

As for the mass murderer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he's become known familiarly as just KSM. He's been awaiting trial for so long he says all he wants is "martyrdom." But, by request and/or order of the new chief executive of the United States, all proceedings of the military commission that might have provided that consummation devoutly to be wished have been suspended.

But wait. According to another new executive order, such commissions remain an option. Maybe. Your guess is as good and probably better than mine, which is that KSM will spend a peaceful old age before ever getting his thoroughly merited deserts. This new welter of executive orders only gives him another layer of legalities to manipulate. He's getting awfully, and I mean awfully, good at it by now, aided as he is by the best white-shoe lawyers liberaldom can provide.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.