Obama Names Intelligence Chiefs, Vows No Torture in War Against Terrorism

File: President Obama with CIA Director Leon Panetta and National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, two of the key consultants on counterterror security. (AP)

File: President Obama with CIA Director Leon Panetta and National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, two of the key consultants on counterterror security. (AP)

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Barack Obama said Friday his administration would not compromise its ideals to fight terrorism, and he has told his new intelligence chiefs that he expects the Geneva Conventions to be honored.

Obama was speaking at a news conference Friday to announce his choice for CIA director, former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, and director of national intelligence, retired Adm. Dennis Blair.

The president-elect, who takes office Jan. 20, said he has given the men the clear charge to restore the United States' record on human rights.

"I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture," Obama said, when asked at the news conference whether he would continue a policy of harsh interrogation. "We will abide by the Geneva Conventions. We will uphold our highest ideals."

Also at Friday's news conference, Obama addressed the latest data on U.S. job losses, calling it "a stark reminder of how urgently action is needed." He spoke shortly after the Labor Department reported job losses of 524,000 in December and a 7.2 percent unemployment rate, the highest in 16 years.

He noted that jobs were lost in all 12 months of 2008, and he called it "the single worst year of job losses since World War II." He urged Congress to give its quick attention to his still-evolving economic stimulus plan, designed to create or save 3 million jobs at a cost of about $800 billion.

Congressional leaders have said they will finish work on Obama's economic recovery plan by mid-February, though outlines of the proposal are already drawing some criticism, even among the president-elect's fellow Democrats.

But much of Obama's focus Friday was on national security, with Blair and Panetta rounding out his team.

Panetta, a former congressman, White House chief of staff and budget director with no direct intelligence experience, will have the president's "complete trust and substantial clout," Obama said.

Panetta said as head of the Central Intelligence Agency he would work to assuage a Congress bruised from eight years of abrasive relations with the Bush administration and promised "to form the kind of partnership we need if we're to win the war on terror."

Blair won high marks for countering terrorism in southeast Asia after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He worked closely with foreign partners in crafting offensives that crippled the Jemaah Islamiyah terror faction in Indonesia and the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines.

Blair, a former head of the U.S. Pacific Command, pledged as director of national intelligence to uphold the standards that Obama articulated "and that the American people have a right to expect."

Both men are both garnering substantial support in Congress, although concerns exist about each.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden told The Associated Press on Thursday that he plans to question Blair about the role he played 10 years ago in U.S. efforts to rein in the Indonesian military as it brutally cracked down on civilians in East Timor. Staff aides to other members said they would be listening closely to the answers.

Paramilitary groups sponsored by the Indonesian military with U.S. financial and political patronage slaughtered more than 200,000 East Timorese over two decades. In 1999, as civilians were being massacred, Congress and the Clinton administration cut off all military ties.

Blair, then U.S. Pacific Command chief, pushed for renewing relations with the Indonesian army, reasoning that drawing it closer would give the U.S. more leverage. Obama spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Blair was acting in accordance with U.S. policy.

"Admiral Blair condemned the conduct of Indonesian troops in East Timor, and he conveyed that if they behaved responsibly, the U.S. was prepared to resume normal relations. If they did not, they risked further negative consequences," she said.

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, a human rights group, called Blair a poor choice for intelligence director this week.

Panetta faced resistance from Congress earlier this week because of his lack of intelligence experience, but his prospects for an easy confirmation improved this week as key senators, including incoming Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, pledged their support after discussions with Obama, Panetta and Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

Also on Friday, Obama tapped John Brennan to coordinate counterterrorism policy for the White House National Security Council.

Brennan, Obama's top intelligence adviser through the campaign, took himself out of consideration for CIA head in November, saying he did not want to be a distraction. His potential appointment had raised a firestorm in liberal blogs that associate him with the Bush administration's interrogation, detention and rendition policies.