The CIA's secret prisons are being shuttered. Harsh interrogation techniques are off-limits. And Guantanamo Bay will eventually go back to being a wind-swept naval base on the southeastern corner of Cuba.
But even while dismantling these programs, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counter-terrorism tool.
Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism -- aside from Predator missile strikes -- for taking suspected terrorists off the street.
The rendition program became a source of embarrassment for the CIA, and a target of international scorn, as details emerged in recent years of botched captures, mistaken identities and allegations that prisoners were turned over to countries where they were tortured.
The European Parliament condemned renditions as "an illegal instrument used by the United States." Prisoners swept up in the program have sued the CIA as well as a Boeing Co. subsidiary accused of working with the agency on dozens of rendition flights.
But the Obama administration appears to have determined that the rendition program was one component of the Bush administration's war on terrorism that it could not afford to discard.
To carry out its mission, the CTC relies on its Rendition Group, made up of case officers, paramilitaries, analysts and psychologists. Their job is to figure out how to snatch someone off a city street, or a remote hillside, or a secluded corner of an airport where local authorities wait.
Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip. Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA's own covert prisons -- referred to in classified documents as "black sites," which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe.
In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the CTC was the place to be for CIA officers wanting in on the fight. The staff ballooned from 300 to 1,200 nearly overnight.
"It was the Camelot of counterterrorism," a former counterterrorism official said. "We didn't have to mess with others -- and it was fun."
Democrats will find comfort in the Camelot reference; JFK, the good old days of nuclear brinksmanship, the Bay of Pigs, domino theories and their use in justifying military adventurism. It was a more innocent time, a time of hope. Change was in the air, his supply side economics notwithstanding. Enema banditry and vengeful diapering were private pursuits, for the most part, not yet proudly on display as important tools of statecraft. And in that regard, Democratic Party supporters should be grateful to President Bush. His administration removed the shameful stigma associated with sexually molesting people in order to keep the country safe and improve our enemies' understanding of democracy.
Needless to say, he took it too far, much further than President Clinton did. There was no reason to maintain proprietary black prisons and post-kidnapping torture facilities. They're expensive and in plentiful supply in client states. Responsible managers outsource activities that can damage a brand. They retain control of only the essential parts. To his immense credit, President Obama recognizes that. He may well issue an executive order mandating a more tasteful approach. Proper guidelines make a difference! And if pressed, his supporters can point out that at least they don't gloat about spending hundreds of millions of dollars on state-sponsored molestation, not like those nasty Republicans, who administer date rape drugs after they've had their fun.