By now you’ll have seen the four memos released by Barack Obama, detailing the Bush Administration’s formal adoption of torture into CIA/US government practice. I understand Obama’s reluctance to move against those who both enabled and perpetrated what was perhaps the biggest outrage in American politics of all time, and instead say he’s banned the practice once again and that the country has moved on. But this leaves us with significant problems:
1) It reenables the Nürnberg defence – ‘I was only following orders’. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drawn up precisely to end such a ludicrous way out. Human rights are always in effect and must be defended by everyone at all times and everywhere. If Obama truly does let these people off the hook he’s as big a threat to human rights as Bush was.
2) It makes a mockery of his insistence that the US is a nation of laws. It either is or it isn’t. If the law has been broken the perpetrators must be brought to justice – it doesn’t matter at all who they are.
The thing is he’s a brilliant man who knows all of this, so what’s really going on? My guess, or rather my hope is this – he wants the demand for investigation and prosecution to come from below, from the grassroots. Why else would he have made such a wishy washy statement like
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.
There’s nothing he can’t come back from here, should he feel ‘pressured’ by the public or Congress to do so. After all it’s the position he’s taken on gay marriage. It’s something he doesn’t agree with and doesn’t support, but should the public make it happen at grassroots level, as president he’ll support it. As Digby puts it:
I have to wonder if by releasing the memos they aren’t at least obliquely asking for the public to “make” them do it. They could have kept them secret, after all. If there were significant public pressure as well as pressure from congress, they would have enough cover to launch an investigation with the assurance they aren’t going to go the Bad Apple route.
I obviously have no idea whether they would welcome such a thing. But we should do it anyway.
(via Andrew Sullivan)
Keep your fingers crossed. It’s an odd, and dangerous long game to play if that’s what he’s doing. But make no mistake this must not be allowed to go away, and my hope would be that if there needed to be a compromise for reasons Obama alludes to elsewhere in his statement, that it was the officials who enabled this who were prosecuted. Speaking of whom…