The Dumpster Fire of Obama's Moral Authority
Thursday, 07 August 2014 09:03By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed
President Obama briefs the press on the economy and foreign policy issues at the White House, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (Screengrab via Whitehouse.gov)
Whatever lingering moral authority remaining in the administration of President Barack Obama fell to dust last Friday in a news dump that no one, apparently, was expected to pay any attention to.
That's what Friday news dumps are for; you drop the smelliest stories in the late afternoon, when the citizenry is staring out the window at work and waiting for the weekend to begin. Very few people pay attention to the news on the weekends, and by Monday morning, the damning or damaging stories that were dropped on Friday have flowed far down the river to pollute the bay, out of sight and out of mind.
The news dump last Friday, however, was a doozy, and didn't sink from sight in the manner the Obama administration hoped it would. Over the intervening days, a great many people have taken a long, slow burn on remarks made by the president regarding America's use of torture during the so-called "War on Terror."
"Even before I came into office," said the President on Friday, "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."
One is immediately struck by the staggering glibness of using the line "We tortured some folks" to encapsulate a years-long comprehensive international program that tore a great many people to pieces, among them many innocents, to no appreciable gain. The program was used, in no small degree, to extract niblets of highly questionable "intelligence" the previous administration used to justify a war of aggression against Iraq that won them elections and made their friends rich. Along the way, public international knowledge of America's actions destroyed this nation's reputation utterly. They all got away with it.
"I understand why it happened," the President continued. "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."
As bad as the "some folks" gambit was, this, this right here, is where the moral authority of this president and his administration became a dumpster fire. No one has any business blaming President Obama and his administration for the deplorable actions of his predecessor. However, the simple fact of the matter is that all of them swore a public oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. They are required to swear that oath not for the times when defending the Constitution is easy, but for the times when it is hard. Otherwise, the oath itself is pointless.
By citing the fear that came after the attacks of 9/11 - a moment when defending the Constitution and holding to that oath was very, very hard - as a free pass for those who instituted and practiced this program of torture, the president betrayed his oath, just as those who practiced torture betrayed theirs. No one was prosecuted for these crimes, and the "investigations" conducted by this administration into that torture were so piddly and toothless as to be utterly meaningless.
Beyond that oath is the Geneva Convention Against Torture, of which the United States is a signatory, and is therefore bound to its edicts. Article Two, Section One of the Convention reads, "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." In other words, no excuses, period, end of file. "Afraid" is not an excuse.
The Constitution was violated, the Geneva Convention was violated, and still everyone walked, and on Friday, the president said that was fine, because we were "afraid." The moral failure in this is so vast as to be bottomless...but Mr. Obama wasn't quite finished twisting the knife.
"And, you know," he continued, "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."
"Not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect," he said. Note this well: that specific remark was not directed at the Republicans, the Tea Party or the "mainstream" news media, all of whom happily went along for the ride back when torture was the hip thing to do. Mr. Obama isn't going to get any static from them on the issue of torture; their hands are grimy with the blood they helped to spill.
No, that line was directed at people like me, and maybe you, and everyone who stood up and shouted from the rafters that torture is wrong, that torture is evil, and the people who did it need to be punished if the United States has even a whiff of a prayer of recovering its morality after so long and cruel and despicable a practice. The torturers are the "real patriots" here, you see, and those of us who stood against them - and will ever do so - are only being "sanctimonious" in our outrage.
So what is this about, really? The whole purpose of Mr. Obama's comments on Friday was to discuss the upcoming release of a congressional report on the CIA's use of torture. This came on the heels of revelations that the CIA had hacked congressional computers to steal the report and find out what was in it, a breach of the separation of powers that should make your hair stand on end. For his part, Mr. Obama allowed the CIA to be in charge of redacting "sensitive" information in the report before its release to the public, an act many have called a brazen conflict of interest.
Once congress saw the redactions, they realized the CIA had essentially black-lined the information within to such an egregiously extensive degree that the report had been rendered into meaningless gibberish. Congress, for their part, is having none of it, and a number of powerful Senators have picked a very public fight with the CIA and the administration about getting a clean report.
Why is the president bending over backwards for what is demonstrably a CIA that has gone dangerously rogue? It might have something to do with the fact that the current CIA Director, John Brennan, was up to his neck in the torture program while a member of the Bush administration, and is now the CIA director because Mr. Obama nominated him. Yes, it just might.
The whole thing reeks of a cover-up, but don't get too sanctimonious about it. They were "patriots," and we were "afraid," and besides, it was just "some folks" who were tortured.
What took place during the long, gruesome practice of torture is a stain on the soul of this nation. President Obama has done nothing to bring those responsible to justice, and has in fact tapped several of the architects, such as Mr. Brennan, for positions of incredible power. On Friday, Mr. Obama chose to soft-pedal the disgrace of torture, called the perpetrators "patriots," and told those of us upset about the whole thing not to be "sanctimonious" in our indignation.
The presidency of Barack Obama ended on Friday, August 1st, 2014, as far as I am concerned. He'll sit in that round room until January of 2017, but he can go peddle his platitudes elsewhere. By lining up with and defending the torturers, he has added his name to the roll call of shame that continues to dishonor this nation. I no longer have any interest in what he has to say.
William Rivers Pitt is Truthout's senior editor and lead columnist. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know," "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence" and "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation." He lives and works in New Hampshire.
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