Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, August 3, 2014 3:49 pm

Well, on torture, Obama is now officially As Bad As Bush

Jesus wept:

Even before I came into office, I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. 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 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, you know, it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots, but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects.

A mid-level Bush functionary? No. That’s the current president of the United States, a man who, just weeks into his presidency, described waterboarding as torture.

What a craven, morally bankrupt speech. From the incongruous use of “folks” to describe people against whom the United States of America committed violations of U.S. and international law, to the point of death in dozens of instances, to the condescending notion that in the immediate wake of 9/11 we were all so deathly terrified that we would have thrown any and all moral and constitutional principles aside for the sake of a false assurance of safety, this is a morally toxic pile of bullshit. And it’s even more offensive, coming as it does from the same president who told graduating West Point cadets in 2010:

A fundamental part of our strategy for our security has to be America’s support for those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding. And we will promote these values above all by living them — through our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution, even when it’s hard; even when we’re being attacked; even when we’re in the midst of war.

Now, however, we get, “But we were SKEERED!” and “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious.” These comments are the ashes of our last remaining hope that this president, twice elected against one addled former war hero and one stone-cold sociopath, might, in his grappling with perhaps the most difficult ethical quandary a U.S. president has faced since Hiroshima, finally lead us down the path of righteousness. The reason he doesn’t want to look back is that his view in that direction is objectively wrong. Some of us — many of us, in fact — were saying AT THE TIME that it was important to preserve our humane values, such as they were, while pursuing the 9/11 perps, even as we feared that the crew in power was about the last group in the country likely to do that. We were right then; we are right now.

What prompted these remarks was the report by the CIA inspector general that, contrary to all previous assurances, the CIA had, in fact, hacked the computers of congressional staffers tasked with overseeing the CIA. Yet this president, who should be firing John Brennan and referring his case to the Justice Department’s criminal division, instead is defending him and his agency, not only against the current crimes (the CIA is barred by law from domestic operations, in addition to laws banning hacking without a warrant) but also against its previous war crimes. By the way, Brennan played a role in those, too; Obama never should have nominated him in the first place.

Torture is never right. Not ever. It is illegal, immoral, and ineffective. We waterboarded people? Dear God, so did Japanese military leaders during WWII, and you know what we call them now? Executed war criminals.

This president needs to get rid of John Brennan today. (And if he won’t and the House is really hot to impeach somebody, they could do a lot worse than to start with Brennan.) And despite having saddled himself with the worst attorney general since John Mitchell, he needs to direct that AG to open a criminal investigation of torture, focused not on the Lynndie Englands of the world but on those who gave the orders. We are bound by U.S. and international law to do so, and if the law means anything anymore — an open question, I admit — then we have no other choice.

“Looking forward, not back,” this president’s mantra, hasn’t worked. And looking forward won’t work until we look back, in anger and sorrow, come to terms with what we did, and make at least some sincere effort toward atoning for it. Following the laws to which we as a country were willing signatories is the bare minimum, but right now I’d settle even for that. Otherwise, this stuff will only happen again, and next time it will be worse, because, as history teaches us, the next time is always worse.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010 9:07 pm

And while we’re on defense issues …

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 9:07 pm
Tags: ,

Spencer Ackerman quotes John O. Brennan, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism:

… no nation, no matter how powerful, can prevent every attack from coming to fruition. …

This is the challenge we face. Even more than the attacks that al-Qaeda and its violent affiliates unleash or the blood they spill, they seek to strike at the very essence of who we are as Americans. By replacing our hard-won confidence with fear and by replacing our tolerance with suspicion. By turning our great diversity from a source of strength into a source of division. By causing us to undermine the laws and values that have been a source of our strength and our influence throughout the world. By turning a nation whose global leadership has meant greater security and prosperity for people in every corner of the globe into a nation that retreats from the world stage and abandons allies and partners.

That is what al-Qaeda and its allies want. To achieve their goals by turning us into something that we are not. But that is something they can never achieve. Because only the people of America can change who we are as a nation. al-Qaeda can sow explosives into their clothes or park an SUV filled with explosives on a busy street. But it is our choice to react with panic or resolve. They can seek to recruit people already living among us. But it is our choice to subject entire communities to suspicion or to support those communities in reaching the disaffected before they turn to violence. Terrorists may try to bring death to our cities. But it is our choice to either uphold the rule of law or chip away at it.

Spencer, who covers these issues for a living, notes that even as Brennan is saying these things, the administration for which he works is arguing in court for the right to hold detainees indefinitely without charge. So he asked Brennan how he reconciled what he was saying with that policy. Brennan’s response in its entirety:

When this administration came in, in January of last year, we dealt with a number of legacy situations that we wanted to make sure we were able to deal with appropriately without compromising the security of the American people. I think as everybody recognizes, on both sides of the political spectrum, the situation at Guantanamo is a very, very difficult and challenging one. I think that even as the president said he was determined to close Guantanamo within one year, it still remains open because the president is determined not to do anything that would compromise America’s security. It is something that we are working very closely with the Congress on. We are trying to do things in a very thoughtful manner. We have transfered about 50 of those detainees over the past year and a half, and we’re continuing to look at their situations there. But this is a challenge that we need to look at from a policy perspective, from a legal perspective as well as from a security perspective.

That’s not good enough for me because it sounds as if the administration is continuing to try to defend the very things Brennan has just said will hurt us and help al-Qaeda. Spencer took the same tack:

I go back to the quote that Marc Lynch gave me for my morning piece: “What I’m afraid of is that as soon as you get turbulence — like an actual terrorist attack — there’s going to be a big backlash and you can’t hold the overall structure in place. Right now, Obama’s got the rhetoric, but they’ve done precious little to institutionalize it and put on durable legal foundations.” I think it might be worse than that. The institutionalization that the administration is pursuing will codify indefinite detention without charge. Brennan today vowed fairness and checks and balances in such a system, and careful discretion in when it will apply. But opt-out clauses from the rule of law create an incentive to expand their applicability. And if Brennan’s critique really applies, then that’s an unalloyed strategic asset for al-Qaeda.

Lynch’s fear may not be hypothetical for very long. The attempted-attack level in the U.S. is high by historic standards, even if the sophistication of the attempts are low. Brennan deserves credit for not saying the administration requires more surveillance authorities to handle the domestic threat when he was asked. But how prepared is the Obama administration, really, to withstand the enormous political pressures that will exist for ever-more-draconian measures when another attack finally succeeds?

That, unfortunately, is a very good question. We lost our minds on 9/11, for perfectly understandable reasons. But I hope we also have learned some things, from our own experience and from the experience of other frequent targets of terrorism, such as Britain (dealing with the IRA), Spain (Basques) and Israel (name it).

First, although there are many things we can do to make ourselves safer, the fact is that sometime, somewhere, someone will succeed in a terrorist attack that takes lives, possibly many lives. That is inevitable.

Second, throwing fundamental rights out the window when terrorism happens always ends up being seen in the long run as the wrong thing to do. Not only does it not make us safer, it can alienate some people so much that they become terrorists themselves, and it plays right into the propaganda of our tormentors. It is both a tactical mistake and a strategic mistake.

Risk management is not a total mystery, even with respect to terrorism, so we need to manage our risk as effectively and efficiently as possible. That boils down to prioritizing on the basis of what scenarios would cause the most damage, irrespective of likelihood, and what scenarios are most likely, irrespective of damage, and finding the balance point. From what I’ve read and heard, the biggest risk by these standards is a small nuclear weapon hidden in a vessel in a U.S. port. Having a couple of hundred blood kin living within a couple of miles of Charleston’s harbor does not make me feel especially good about this, but it is what it is.

But risk elimination is a pipe dream, no matter how totalitarian a state we might become. Let’s be grownups, accept that, work systematically and logically to manage and reduce our risk, and remember who we are: a free people.

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