Some Perspective

Having had some time to think about the way Pres. Obama handled this torture memo release issue (and to read and absorb some of the Internet commentary on it), my sense of his personal integrity and moral courage in releasing all four memos essentially unredacted except for the names of the CIA agents involved, is growing.

Obviously, I was not the only one who reacted with dismay to Obama’s statement that “this is a time for reflection rather than retribution,” that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past,” and that those of us who believe that no one is above the law (which includes being held accountable for breaking the law) are no more than “forces that divide us.” And my feelings about that have not changed.

But I’m looking at it now as digby puts it here:

First of all, good for Obama for releasing these OLC memos. I know that he was under tremendous pressure from the intelligence community not to do it and it was an act of principle for him to defy them. Like dday, I reamin very, very disappointed that he refuses pursue charges against those who ordered these atrocities, but I am grateful that he’s at least releasing this information.

Glenn Greenwald’s post this morning, “The Significance of Obama’s Decision to Release the Torture Memos,” is another good one to read for anyone who is struggling with seriously mixed feelings (and I think that’s most of us):

… I think the significance of Obama’s decision to release those memos — and the political courage it took — shouldn’t be minimized.  There is no question that many key factions in the “intelligence community” were vehemently opposed to release of those memos.  I have no doubt that reports that they waged a “war” to prevent  release of these memos were absolutely true.  The disgusting comments of former CIA Director Mike Hayden on MSNBC yesterday — where he made clear that he simply does not believe in the right of citizens to know what their government does and that government crimes should be kept hidden– is clearly what Obama was hearing from many powerful circles.  That twisted anti-democratic mentality is the one that predominates in our political class.

In the United States, what Obama did yesterday is simply not done.  American Presidents do not disseminate to the world documents which narrate in vivid, elaborate detail the dirty, illegal deeds done by the CIA, especially not when the actions are very recent, were approved and ordered by the President of the United States, and the CIA is aggressively demanding that the documents remain concealed and claiming that their release will harm national security.  When is the last time a President did that?

Other than mildly placating growing anger over his betrayals of his civil liberties commitments (which, by the way, is proof of the need to criticize Obama when he does the wrong thing), there wasn’t much political gain for Obama in releasing these documents.  And he certainly knew that, by doing so, he would be subjected to an onslaught of accusations that he was helping Al Qaeda and endangering American National Security.  And that’s exactly what happened, as in this cliché-filled tripe from Hayden and Michael Mukasey in today’s Wall St. Journal, and this from an anonymous, cowardly “top Bush official” smearing Obama while being allowed to hide behind the Jay Bybee of journalism, Politico‘s Mike Allen.

But Obama knowingly infuriated the CIA, including many of his own top intelligence advisers; purposely subjected himself to widespread attacks from the Right that he was giving Al Qaeda our “playbook”;  and he released to the world documents that conclusively prove how that the U.S. Government, at the highest levels, purported to legalize torture and committed blatant war crimes.  There’s just no denying that those actions are praiseworthy. …

… as a matter of political reality, Obama had to incur significant wrath from powerful factions by releasing these memos, and he did that.  That’s an extremely unusual act for a politician, especially a President, and it deserves praise.  None of this mitigates any of the bad acts Obama has engaged in recently — particularly his ongoing efforts to shield Bush crimes from judicial review by relying on extreme assertions of presidential secrecy powers — but, standing alone, his actions yesterday are quite significant.

Glenn makes another crucial point, which is that the release of these memos, with almost all of the details about the acts of torture committed and the OLC attorneys’ justifications for permitting them left unredacted, could lead to a groundswell of support for prosecutions — even if that is not what Obama intended. But it’s up to us to make that happen:

… What Obama did yesterday — whether by design or not — provided the most potent tools yet to create the political pressure for prosecutions.  As Kevin Drum makes clear, no decent human being reading those memos would be anything other than repelled by what was in them.  Polls already found that large percentages of Americans, majorities even, favor investigations and/or prosecutions for Bush crimes.  The onus is on those who believe in the rule of law to find ways to force the government to criminally investigate whether they want to or not (this petition demanding that Holder appoint a Special Prosecutor is a very good place to begin, though it will require much more than just petitions).

I signed the petition. Anyone who believes that the “lawyers” who wrote these memos and the government officials who instructed them to do so should be held accountable for their actions if those actions violated statutory, constitutional, and international law, should sign it as well. It’s an extremely easy, no fuss, no bother way to be a good citizen.

One Response to “Some Perspective”

  1. arly says:

    why have a world court then that tries Others for crimes committed in the past?

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