Friday, April 24, 2009


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.


susan h said...

Dear Marc: While I agree with most of what you have said in your blogs ongoing, I do not agree with some of what you have said in this article. We did not just pick people up off the street and "torture" them. These were high level Al-Queda operatives who were involved in the planning of 9/11 and had information on other attacks being planned in our country. Information has now been released that we prevented an attack on the Brooklyn Bridge by these techniques. I am not one that condones war, the death penalty or violence in any form. However, I really have no sympathy for these Al-Queda operatives.

The Abu Grabe situation is a disgrace. The Army is a chain of command and those cowards in charge blamed Linsey English, a low level private, and others, for committing those shameful acts while they went free. All those involved at higher levels are hypocrites and cowards.

Nancy Pelosi and other democrats definitely knew this was all going on and they agreed and encouraged the use of waterboarding in some situations. Contrary to your opinion, I am against airing this kind of dirty laundry in public. I think Obama wants to take the heat off him for a while and get people upset at Bush. Now he plans to show pictures of things that will enflame the Middle East. Then probably another apology tour to countries to have no human rights and wish to do us harm. IMO, this should be an internal discussion among the CIA, White House, Senate committees, high level Bush people and others, where they decide about the future use of torture. Remember those Danish cartoons that caused violence in the streets of various Islamic countries? Well I fear showing pictures of their people tortured in our prisons will also bring violence, which will do nothing to help the situation, but only make it worse.

As for now, this is still America, where we can agree to disagree...

Marc Rubin said...

"These were high level Al-Queda operatives who were involved in the planning of 9/11 and had information on other attacks being planned in our country"

the problem is we don't know what if any valuable information was gotten from the techniques. It's fair to say they werent discontinued because there was evidence that those techniques were responsible for preventing any attacks. Cheney of course says there were and he is already a proven liar. And lets not forget Ashcrofts breathless TV appearance telling us they caught a terrorist who was planning on setting off a dirty bomb in Washington which turned out to be a total exaggeration.

David Blair the director of intelligence said that while there was SOME information gotten from the use of waterboarding (which is torture) it was nothing worth sacrificing the country's values to get. That doesnt sound like like information that prevented people from getting killed to me, so there is still no evidence that it worked. The other thing Blair said was that there was no information obtained that couldnt have been gotten using other methods. So right now, except for taking Cheney's word for it, until there is some evidence to show there was high value information obtained it looks like the entire episode of torture was a mistake. Either way, Obama playing politics with it, saying no prosecutions one day, then yes prosections the next, then changing his mind again and saying the Attorney General will decide just makes a mess of the whole issue.

sue said...

I have found it interesting that when Obama initially released the memos- he said it was time to move forward and pretty much has taken that approach the whole time-

Why is he so eager to move forward on this issue yet he keeps reminding everyone that Bush left him the economic disaster?

Because once again- Obama accepts no responsibility, has no moral convictions and believes in nothing except the continued promotion of his career.

He clearly is in way over his head- my only "hope" is for "change" in four years- I think Obama didn't think he would actually have to do any work or take any responsibility.

Thanks for trying to clear up this situation Marc- it will be interesting watching it unravel

sue said...

Sorry for the additional post- one more point- (maybe two)-

I think we now have to wait until all the information is released- I agree Cheney is a liar- but he is calling for info to be released and I cannot imagine he is stupid- I can't imagine the additional info will not support him- I just think we now need to hear the whole story- including those democrats who were involved- after the way the stuck it (using polite language here) to half their party last year- do you really think they wouldn't support such things as torture to terrorists? I trust Pelosi and Obama about as much as I trust Obama.

While they are at releasing the additional memos (and I agree about the pictures- there is no need for that)- I think the public needs to know the content of the Geneva convention- I for one have not read it.

Lastly- as much as I am hopeful Americans will open their eyes to Obama- I am certain that half of the kool-aide guzzlers don't even have a clue about this issue and how it relates to Obama- they hear Bush and they go into their trance and begin their Stepford wife response to their leader.

You are preaching to the choir here Marc- it's the Obama sychophants who need to read/watch/listen

Anonymous said...

Sue - I love reading your posts as much as I love reading Marc's pieces. And, per Marc's last piece as well, this is such a classic example of Obama talking out of both sides of his mouth, unwilling to take a clear stand, trying to please everyone, passing the buck so as to remain in the free and clear. It's so damn frightening. And, I agree completely that he is in way over his head, and surely he must know it. Who jumps from a "voting present" state senator to a US senator with 143 days of experience to President? I still feel stunned to think the media/electorate came out in droves for him. Stupifying.

Anonymous said...

Sue - I think we were typing at the same time. If it's any consolation, I had a rather unexpected exchange with a neighbor and complete Obama fan. I was amazed to hear her say critical things about him just this morning regarding this whole issue regarding torture, the release of the memos and how to proceed from here. Even SHE could see that he's sending mixed messages and creating enormous confusion. Now, THAT gives me hope!

barb said...

From Tom Tomorrow:

I have to be honest, it's not the easiest thing to sit through. The film, which primarily focuses on abuses at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, contains footage of the Bagram base that's never been seen anywhere else, as well as the shockingly familiar images from Abu Ghraib, uncensored and high res. The filmmaker, who attended last night's screening at Yale, described it beforehand as a sort of murder mystery, using as its springboard the story of Dilawar, the young taxi driver who was apprehended by Afghan militia and turned over to the U.S. military at Bagram, where he was, in fact, eventually murdered. And that's not hyperbole -- the official coroner's report lists the cause of death as "homicide." (The film notes that out of more than 100 deaths in U.S. custody, 37 have been officially declared homicides by the U.S. military itself. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that only seven percent of Guantanamo detainees were actually apprehend by the U.S. military -- the rest have been turned over by Afghan warlords, Pakistanis, bounty hunters, etc., any of whom may have had agendas having nothing to do with the American war on terror. Dilawar's captor, for instance, turns out have been the person actually responsible for the rocket attacks of which the taxi driver was wrongly accused).

sue said...

Anna- thanks for the kind words-

I did not get a chance to look at the newspaper today, so this is probably old already- but here is a link to the WaPo on Obie's position:

The plot thickens...

Double Jointed Fingers said...

This is the best title for a post that I've ever seen!

And, I totally agree.

Foxwood said...

Let's go surfin' now
Everybody's learnin' how
Do some waterboardin' with me!

Anonymous said...

Sue - Can't open the link from here. Got a summary of the piece?

emca said...

susan et. al./
A moral society does not torture, no matter the efficacy of the act the ethical restraints remain.

There seems to be an effort currently to obfuscate the issue by arguing its a matter of ends, not the means in achieving those ends that matter, that what is wrong is not wrong by effect. That we did or did not dredge useful information from torture is not only debatable, its irrelevant to the discussion of what one should or shouldn't do.

The consequences of the use of torture extend well beyond any immediate value it (arguably) has. I had thought this was a given, but in the new world order of double-think, this is evidentially not so.

To emphasis, we do not do torture, we do not employ the immoral tactics our adversaries and still consider ourselves a civilized society.

Sarah Ferguson said...

emca - we did torture, we did employ tactics of our adversaries and, at the same time, consider ourselves a civilized society.

The torture memos are an interesting read. The focus on particulars is bizarre or maybe inspiring. i'm not sure yet.

marc, i recall knowing that condi knew from an article written two-three years ago. i wish i had a reference.

Sarah Ferguson said...

Here it is.,1518,389224,00.html

This article is from 2005. Why is the mainstream media recycling the story of what Condi knew today?

susan h said...

I agree with everything everyone says here. I want each of you to think about and answer a question for youself: If a murderer came into your home and was attempting to kill your child, and the only way you could stop him was to kill him, would you do so?

Emca, you make a blanket statement, which I generally agree with: "A moral society does not torture, no matter the efficacy of the act the ethical restraints remain." And I would add, a moral person does not kill, yet are there circumstances in which you would murder someone? If you did so, would you still consider yourself a moral person?

I have hated George Bush and Cheney for 8 years, yet I believe that he/they thought they were protecting us. I am not taking anyone's side, cetainly not Bush & Cheney's, but this is a complex issue, which I believe should be discussed behind closed doors. But I still think we are a moral country even though we have committed lots of immoral acts. IMO, putting Japanese people into internment camps was a lot worse than what I hear coming out of Guantanamo Bay prison.

Obama talks about "our moral values" yet doesn't mind using ACORN to steal an election, and a whole host of other illegal, immortal and corrupt activities that brought him to the White House. While he pretends to be a "different kind of politician", he is nothing more than an old-style thug and mobster. What's moral about that?

Perhaps someone here will understand what I am trying to say.

Marc Rubin said...

"...think about and answer a question for youself: If a murderer came into your home and was attempting to kill your child, and the only way you could stop him was to kill him, would you do so?"

The answer is yes but if you tied him up and tortured him for days instead of killing him there is a chance you'd get convicted of a crime though you probably wouldnt go to jail.

The issue with torture is two fold. One its against the law. If Bush didnt like the law then he should have tried to change it. The second is that no one, not one single person in a position to know which includes the CIA and the FBI has said one single attack or one single life was saved as a result of any information obtained through torture.

sue said...

Obviously, I think we are all against torture-

My biggest contention w/ this whole fiasco is why did Obama release the memos if he wasn't going to do anything w/ the information. If you are going to release the info- release it all- and then act accordingly and with responsibility. I think that is where the argument comes-

Additionally- don't forget the nation was in a much different place 7 years ago- any one who walked down around Wall Street after the bombing and looked at the crater in the ground- anyone who lived in the city or remotely close to it that day. I suspect decisions were made that might be different if made today.

(and for the record- I can't stand Bush and especially Cheney either)

In the example given above about killing someone to protect a loved one? Clearly any of us would do anything to protect a loved one- and yes- killing is wrong and against the law- but there would be extenuating circumstances- that being said- it is exactly why we have laws and are not running a vigilante society.

Now that our heads are spinning from Obama's flip-flopping on torture- I am hopeful Marc will provide us with some insight on Obama's response to swine flu- once he (Obama) got off the golf course that is...

Anonymous said...

susan h - I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Very refreshing. Blogs can often become places where bloggers either cheer any and all that is writtten or, on occasion, act like devil's advocates for whatever reasons (I believe the official term for this group is "trolls.") But, there's precious little that is neither one way or another, but instead, offering a perspective that reflects intgrity and a willingness to think and express beyond what can become a culture of thinking. So, I thank you for what you wrote.

Anonymous said...

PS Just read what I typed and it may be one of the most hazy paragraphs with ungrammatical sentences in the history of humankind, or at least this blog. Hope someone can make sense of it. Anna

emca said...

Sue and Marc have already commented on your analogy of preventive action. On a similar line here's another take on your "what if?" argument.

A person who enters my house with intent to do harm. Action on my part would not involve trying to extract information as to what his or her intents were. There is, by your argument, a obvious, immediate and inarguable connection between presence and consequence which would make torture of the suspect unfruitful (to put it mildly) in preventing calamity. Your scenario is not the case were a suspect, and I emphasis the word suspect, is arrested on suspicion, particularly if that suspicion is of conspiracy to do harm.

As most of the justifications for torture involve guilt before (establishment of) fact, the idea of presumption of innocence would be suggested. Although "presumption of innocence" itself is problematic for some, I see no way that torture is not punishment and punishment before the legal establishment of guilt is in conflict with the foundation of law in this country.

I also would add, that an individual's decision to coerced confessions is one thing, governmental approval of such action as policy is quite another. I don't feel comfortable with government going around torturing people toward the betterment of society, if only because the checks (or lack thereof) a public has to remedy abuse of its practice.

Mikhail said...

I think Obama should establish a worldwide network of inquisition tribunals to punish all sorts of heretics who do not believe that “Vox populi is vox Dei” and that the American President is the most true representative of God. The offenders should be burned alive on Holy Fires.