Finally, the White House has officially admitted that the United States federal government purposefully tortured prisoners as part of its War On Terror.
Torturing prisoners is a federal crime. It’s unconstitutional, a violation of the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment in the Bill of Rights.
However, President Barack Obama doesn’t seem to think that torture is a big deal. “I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were,” he said. “There was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.”
Did you catch that? Torturers are real patriots.
The excuses that Barack Obama makes for torture by the US government are the same excuses that have always been used by abusive governments. Yesterday, however, Obama suggested a new justification for torture: It’s just a down-home authentic American pastime.
“We tortured some folks,” Obama said.
We tortured some folks?
Did we have some neighbors over for country fried steaks and lemonade, and then tortured them while chewing on blades of grass, picking the banjo, and sipping some of grandma’s famous lemonade out on the front porch?
The United States government set up secret prisons. It put people into those prisons without any trial or any other due process. It systematically began a program of torture of those prisoners, organized by the White House itself. The White House lied to Congress about the torture, and worked for years, well into the Obama Administration, to keep the torture secret.
There’s nothing quaint about that. There’s nothing folksy about it.
These were grave criminal acts, organized by the White House.
The problem we face is not excessive sanctimoniousness about torture. The problem we face is that the Obama Administration doesn’t seem to think that torture is something to get upset about.
Barack Obama gave a throwaway line at the end of his comments yesterday, saying that “we have to, as a country, take responsibility” for the torture that was done by our government. Yet, what Obama proposes is the opposite of taking responsibility.
Obama suggests that we simply acknowledge that torture happened, and then move on.
The current director of the CIA, John Brennan, continued the program of covering up torture that was begun under George W. Bush. He has been forced to admit that, in order to keep torture secret, he sent CIA spies into the offices of a U.S. Senate special anti-torture investigation to conduct secret surveillance of the investigation there, and to steal incriminating evidence, so that no one would find out about the torture.
This CIA operation against the Congress of the United States is as serious a crime as was the torture that it sought to cover up. However, Barack Obama believes that the crime should go unpunished. He stated yesterday that “I have full confidence in John Brennan.” Obama said that Brennan apologized for his crime, and that should be enough.
That’s not what responsibility looks like.
What responsibility would look like would be the establishment of an independent prosecutor with power of subpoena over all government officials, including President Obama, John Brennan, former President George W. Bush, former Vice-President Dick Cheney, and all “intelligence officials” who had authority over or took part in the torture. Responsibility would look like the criminal prosecution and punishment of all those who supervised, conducted or covered up torture by the U.S. federal government. That includes impeachment of Barack Obama, if he is found to have known about and covered up the crimes.
Responsibility is not what we’re going to see. What we’re going to see from the Obama Administration, and from the Democrats and Republicans in Congress, are more celebrations of torturers as “patriots”.
The reason for this is painfully simple: There are very few politicians in Washington D.C. who have clean hands when it comes to the crime of torture. Most members of Congress, and most senior officials in the Obama Administration, have spoken out in defense of the policies that led to torture. Many of them knew that torture was being conducted, and did nothing to stop it.
Torture by the American government is a bipartisan problem, and so the avoidance of responsibility for it will be bipartisan as well.