Friday, September 17, 2010

Quote of the Day: Andrew Sullivan on Obama and torture

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President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

It’s hard to believe that Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Dish is actually a self-identified conservative, given how very few of his stances align with the views and acts of modern conservatives in general. You’d think he was a closet liberal with the number of decidedly progressive ideals he seems to hold. And one of them, and something that most conservatives are quick to deny, is his staunch opposition to the torture regime set by the Bush administration and that continues to be neither prosecuted, nor even investigated, under President Obama’s rule. He then argues that Obama should actually be held accountable as a war criminal for deliberately violating international laws and conventions such as the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture.

Here’s the money passage from his September 09 post, “The Untamed Prince”:

As Glenn [Greenwald] notes, Obama as executive quickly co-opted the kind of blanket secrecy and protection of the national security apparatus from the rule of law that plagued us in the Bush-Cheney administration. Yes, torture ended. That matters a huge amount. He will always deserve credit for that. Of course, I have to trust him on this, since there is precious little way for someone outside the government to test this or know this for sure.

But Obama's insistence on protecting every Bush era war criminal and every Bush era war crime from any redress or even scrutiny is a sign both of how cold-blooded he can be, but more, I think, of how powerful the security state now is, how it can protect itself, how it exists independently of any real accountability to anyone, how even the metrics of judging it are beyond the citizen's reach or understanding.

I tried valiantly not to believe this of Holder and Obama for months; I tried to see their legitimate concerns about exposing a war machine when it is still at war; I understand the need for some extraordinary renditions; and the necessity for executive power in emergencies to act swiftly, as the Founders intended. Yes war requires some secrecy. But Obama has gone much further than this now. The cloak of secrecy he is invoking is not protecting national security but protecting war crimes. And this is now inescapably his cloak. He is therefore a clear and knowing accessory to war crimes, and should at some point face prosecution as well, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything any more. This won't happen in my lifetime, barring a miracle. Because Obama was a test case. If an outsider like him, if a constitutional scholar like him, at a pivotal moment for accountability like the last two years, cannot hold American torturers to account, there is simply no accountability for American torture. When the CIA actually rehires as a contractor someone who held a power-drill against the skull of a prisoner, you know that change from within this system is impossible. The system is too powerful. It protects itself. It makes a mockery of the rule of law. It doesn't only allow torture; it rewards it.

As much as I still like and respect Obama for all the good he is doing (or trying to do, despite the branches Republicans keep lobbing into his wheels), his stance regarding the rule of law when it comes to prosecuting war crimes, both under the Bush administration and now under his own, along with his propensity for bringing up the state secrets privilege to avoid ever having to face justice and allow torture victims to have their day in court, is most deplorable and merits not only serious scrutiny, but also harsh reprimand. You cannot allow such crimes as torture and the desecration of the US Constitution to remain in place or to go unpunished without revealing yourself as someone who simply doesn’t give a shit for the system of checks and balances, or especially, for common good under the rule of law.

As much as I dislike saying it, Obama is, by definition, a war criminal. As are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and any- and everyone else involved in creating, implementing and defending the previous administration’s policies to destroy any concept of justice and fair play under the pretense of “national security”. And these people must face prosecution.

But, of course, this isn’t 24 where good always (eventually) prevails in such situations. And there is simply no real reason to believe that they will be brought to justice for all the lives they’ve damaged and destroyed.

(via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)