Barack Obama has thrown his own Administration, half the Democratic party, and the entire Congress into chaos over the issue of torture memos and prosecutions.
As he has done most of his political life, Obama tried to play both sides of the fence when it came to the release of the torture memos trying to placate both sides by releasing the memos which documented Bush White House authorization for torture and at the same time placate the right by saying no one would be prosecuted.
But when stiff opposition arose within his own party to letting those in the Bush White House who approved and formulated the rationale for the illegal methods dodge any accountability, Obama reversed himself by saying that while no one in the CIA would be prosecuted, higher ups in the Bush Administration might. When that caused a firestorm among Republicans, Obama changed again, this time passing the buck to the Attorney General and putting the decision to prosecute in his hands.
Both Senators Feinstein and Feingold were just two of the Democrats who made it clear they opposed any decision by Obama to simply "go forward" without an investigation to see if prosecutions were warranted.
There are now new revelations that both Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney knew of and approved the illegal interrogation techniques while Rice had made public statements at the time to the contrary. Muddying the waters even more, the Washington Post has reported that Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller were both briefed on the torture methods in 2002 and neither voiced any objection. Pelosi has emphatically denied she was briefed that the torture methods were being used.
Another problem for Obama is the fact that a number of US soldiers from Abu Ghraib have been sent to prison for carrying out techniques memos show were encouraged and approved of by Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush.
How Obama can let those soldiers stay in prison and not prosecute those who formulated and gave the orders will be another difficult problem.
The revelations ratchets up the pressure on the Democrats to prosecute those in the Bush Administration who authorized and helped implement torture while the Republicans have launched an offensive against Obama for even releasing the memos.
Obama's political blundering and lack of a clear moral stand, reversing himself every time there has been an objection to something, has created a firestorm that threatens to overshadow anything else coming out of the White House at the moment.
Clearly releasing the memos was the right thing to do. And prosecuting those in the White House who broke the law is also the right thing to do. But it's possible some Democrats, if they had knowledge of the torture and didn't object, will have to go down as well and that could include Pelosi and possibly Jay Rockefeller though there is a distinction between knowing about it and being in a position to authorize it or stop it. But If prosecutions are not forthcoming in order to protect Democrats who might be embarrassed, Obama's credibility would be irreparably damaged even among those who supported him.
As to whether or not the techniques resulted in any valuable information, aside from Cheney's assertions which cannot be believed, we have Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent and the most successful US interrogator of Al-Qaeda operatives. Time magazine reports:
In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Soufan says Abu Zubaydah gave up the information between March and June 2002, when he was being interrogated by Soufan, another FBI agent and some CIA officers. But that was not the result of harsh techniques, including waterboarding, which were not introduced until August. "We were getting a lot of useful material from [Abu Zubaydah], and we would have continued to get material from him," Soufan told TIME. "The rough tactics were not necessary."
There is little doubt that the torture techniques were not neccessary. Perhaps it was because Bush and Cheney ignored all the warnings leading up to the 911 attacks and were responsible for the deaths of 3,000 Americans because of their negligence that they went overboard in trying to prevent another attack.
But as for Obama, because he has tried to straddle both sides of the fence without taking any firm moral stand, as Ed Rollins, Republican strategist who supported the release of the memos said, he now has everyone mad at him. So Obama's own moral ambiguity, part of a pattern he has shown his entire political career is now coming back to haunt him. As Obama is finding out, you can't play politics with morality.
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