Is Obama A Phony On Torture?


I’m dismayed – and somewhat sickened – by the continuing passivity of the president on one of the most important issues the country faces: accountability for the gravest crimes under international law in the first decade of the 21st Century. This is a president who was propelled to two victories in part by those of us who saw the Cheney torture program as an indelible stain on this country that had to be exposed and expunged. And many of us were sympathetic to the difficulty a newly-elected president would be in – if he truly attempted to do right by history. To launch a gut-wrenching investigation into a government agency that remains responsible for our collective security is not something a president should do lightly when assuming the office. As so many presidents have noted over the years, the CIA is powerful enough to wreck a presidency if it tries hard enough – and the rancor may have consumed an administration as it was confronting the worst economic crisis in almost a century. And Obama desperately needed good intelligence to prevent another terror attack, which would have given the pro-torture right yet one more rhetorical point in favor of their disgusting and useless form of prisoner abuse.

But it’s now 2014. The one sliver of hope we have that the war crimes of the past can be accounted for and recovered from is the Senate Intelligence Committee’s thorough investigation of the matter. And yet the very possibility of the report being made public is now in jeopardy, as a result of the CIA’s stonewalling, harassment and obstruction of the Senate’s vital work. And yet the president still sits there, like a potted plant, refusing to put any serious pressure on the CIA to stop its stonewalling and get the report out. Yesterday, he gave the same spiel about his revulsion at torture and his desire to get the report declassified:

He said he was “absolutely committed” to the Senate investigation of the Bush-era practices, and planed to declassify the report as soon as it was finished. “In fact, 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,” Obama said.

Wha-wha-wha-what? The Senate Committee completed the report fifteen fricking months ago! The only reason it has not been declassified and published is because the CIA has been engaged in aggressive stonewalling and obstruction – to the point at which Diane Feinstein was forced to denounce her beloved spies on the Senate floor this week. The president should not be telling the Senate Committee to finish their report (which they did over a year ago), but the CIA to quit the harassment of a committee’s vital work.

Then we discover that the White House has not actually fully cooperated with the Senate Committee:

The White House has been withholding for five years more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for its investigation into the now-defunct CIA detention and interrogation program, even though President Barack Obama hasn’t exercised a claim of executive privilege. In contrast to public assertions that it supports the committee’s work, the White House has ignored or rejected offers in multiple meetings and in letters to find ways for the committee to review the records, a McClatchy investigation has found.

We’re told this has to do with sorting out executive branch privileges. Please. No executive branch privileges should be used to conceal the truth of what happened in such a grave matter. Obama has already refused to hold anyone accountable for the torture of the past – violating what’s left of the Geneva Conventions which he is constitutionally required to enforce. Now he’s so milque-toast about even accountability he’s withheld over 9,000 documents from the committee whose work he allegedly supports.

For a long time, I’ve given Obama the benefit of the doubt on this issue. It seems to me that that now has to end.

Because of his passivity and unseriousness with respect to the committee’s vital work, because of his elevation of John Brennan to the head of CIA (a man far more concerned with the agency’s reputation than with accounting for the torture he never protested or opposed at the time), and because of his continuing bullshit about what is truly delaying the report – he must now be considered an objective accomplice to the cover-up.

If his pusillanimity continues until the GOP captures the Senate and bottles up this report for ever, he will have failed one of the most important tests of his presidency. He will have lost the one key moment the United States has in confronting and dealing with some of the most serious crimes its highest officials have ever committed. He will be telling the world that, when push comes to shove, the United States cares more about keeping up appearances than with doing the hard work of truth, accountability and reconciliation. He will be ensuring that the one clear chance we had of finally accounting for these horrors was bungled or deliberately crippled by the government itself, in order to protect its own posterior. He will make it almost certain that torture will return.

That’s not just objectionable. It’s unforgivable.

(Photo: US President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with women members of the US Congress in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, March 12, 2014. By Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.)