In his remarks in Aug. 1, President Obama took his first stab at explaining away the Bush-era tortures — as if there was some national imperative that we excuse away renditions and torture.
From the National Journal:
Obama addressed post-9/11 America in remarks about the Central Intelligence Agency. “We tortured some folks,” he said. “We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and a plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.”
He continued: “A lot of those folks were working hard and under enormous pressure, and are real patriots. But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong.” The president also said that he has “full confidence” in CIA Director John Brennan, despite the agency admitting this week that it had hacked Senate computers.
Is that the best he can do — mouth the same mind-numbing drivel about 9-11 and terror that Bush and his cronies used to deflect blame and accountability from their anti-constitutional abuses? The committee findings he’s deflecting blame from on behalf of the Bush administration aren’t the product of anything he’s done. Those investigations are the work of a diligent and thorough Senate investigative committee which Pres. Obama’s CIA did everything in their power to stall and conceal.
What about addressing CIA Chief Brennan’s attempts to intimidate and discredit the investigators of that report he’s explaining away? All of this ‘confidence’ he’s falling all over himself to heap on Brennan ignores the amazing and absolutely damning admission by his CIA director that he had, in fact, engaged in surveillance of the very Senate committee which produced the report he’s referring to and, incredibly, lifted documents related to their investigation of his agency right out of their computers.
We don’t need lectures from Pres. Obama about the dangers of 9-11. Aside from the killings perpetrated by bin-Laden and his accomplices, real and serious damage was done to America in the way that Bush, Cheney, Tenant, and others in the past administration took advantage of the nation’s fears and embarked on a mission to tear down decades of civil liberties and privacy protections of American citizens; and embarked on an opportunistic war of aggression in Iraq which created even more individuals bent on harming the U.S. and our interests.
Refusing to seek prosecution for the Bush-era torture and rendition abuses amounts to retroactive approval, no matter what lip service the President offers us about his objections; no matter how many times he says the word torture with concern and consternation; no matter how the word ‘patriots’ falls from his lips like some papal absolution.
John Brennan, an intelligence official under George Tenet, was chosen by Obama early in his presidency to lead the review of intelligence agencies and helped make recommendations to his new administration. Brennan had supported warrantless wiretapping and extraordinary rendition under Bush. It’s understandable that he would seek to stifle and obfuscate from anything he and his former employers might have had a hand in.
What’s not understandable is why President Obama sees a need to cover for the previous administration – not unless you consider that his own might well have engaged in some of the same abuses. Despite all of the talk from Obama about his own reforms and remedies there have been reports that rendition abuses actually continued under his watch. There are even reports that torture has continued on our nation’s behalf in other countries where the law or morality permits.
Those are the concerns that Americans should expect this president to address behind this Senate report. We certainly deserve more than cheap propaganda designed to deflect blame from war criminals. We have a second administration which has already asserted itself in the torture debate by moving ahead of Congress in 2009 by establishing the Executive Order 13491 – Ensuring Lawful Interrogations which outlaws many of the torture policies and practices of the anti-constitutional Bush-era ‘war on terror.’
Although the directive from President Obama effectively outlaws specific practices, it can be easily undone by successive administrations. That eventuality was demonstrated with reasonable surety by Mitt Romney in his declaration during his presidential campaign that he supported some of the most objectionable practices outlawed by the WH order.
Notwithstanding an act by Congress in revising existing legislation or passing new legislation specifically outlawing the objectionable practices outlawed by President Obama’s executive order, those torture policies and practices remain up to the discretion of the person in the White House.
In 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder closed without charges the only two cases the Obama administration chose to investigate that involved Bush’s torture program. What Holder’s decision represented was the last word by the Obama administration on actually bring accountability and consequence to the actions of the Bush-era torturers
From the Holder’s statement on his Justice Dept. decision:
On Aug. 24, 2009, based on information the Department received pertaining to alleged CIA mistreatment of detainees, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he had expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to conduct a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations. Attorney General Holder made clear at that time, that the Department would not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees. Accordingly, Mr. Durham’s review examined primarily whether any unauthorized interrogation techniques were used by CIA interrogators, and if so, whether such techniques could constitute violations of the torture statute or any other applicable statute.
In June of last year, the Attorney General announced that Mr. Durham recommended opening full criminal investigations regarding the death of two individuals while in United States custody at overseas locations, and closing the remaining matters. The Attorney General accepted that recommendation. Today, the Attorney General announced that those two investigations conducted over the past year have now been closed.
In his statement Aug. 1, preemptively responding to revelations due to emerge from the Senate Intelligence agency report detailing abuses involving members Bush’s CIA, Pres. Obama correctly condemned the practices, but also gave a curious defense of the motives behind such abuses.
“I understand why it happened,” Obama stated. “I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent.”
“And there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this, and it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had and a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.”
“But having said all that,” he added, “We did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why after I took office one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that were the subject of this report. And my hope is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy but what we do when things are hard. And why we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and any fair-minded person would believe were torture—We crossed a line.”
“That needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to as a country take responsibility for that so hopefully we don’t do it again in the future.”
Much was made by observers of the fact that the President made a historic reference to the interrogation practices as ‘torture.’ Yet, in 2009, early in his presidency, Obama took Cheney to task for his defense of waterboarding: “I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationals were used, it was a mistake,” he said.
Again in his 2011 campaign, President Obama rebuked the republicans advocating the practice, stating, “Anybody who has actually read about and understands the practice of waterboarding would say that that is torture. And that’s not something we do — period.”
Making reference to his objections to torture in reference to the new Senate report is significant, in that, he has relied on his stated position in favor of public release of the intelligence committee report to deflect criticisms from advocates and foes alike. His intention that Congress sort all of it out for him is reflected in his remark Aug. 1 stating, “we have to as a country take responsibility for that.”
“I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report and send it to us, and we will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past. And that can help guide us as we move forward,” he told reporters in March.
What is actually significant about his use of the word ‘torture’ is that the Senate Intelligence Committee report is said to have neglected to use that word to describe any of the abuses they detail. Still, the document is said to contain chilling descriptions of practices during the Bush administration, including many not previously publicized.
Even if the release of the Senate report goes as planned, the public will not see the entire version, but will be offered a summary of the findings.
In Part 2, more analysis of President Obama and the Torture Report redactions.
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