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Which is more effective: lie back and hope or "make me do it"?

vastleft's picture

[Welcome, Glenn Greenwald readers! --lambert]

Yesterday, Barack Obama faced a deadline on releasing certain memos that document Bush-administration abuses of "enemy combatants."

He did release the memos, and with an apparent minimum of redactions, which is — if I may quote a certain convict / decorating expert — a good thing.

But it's not the only thing.

Perhaps the most significant part of Obama's statement about the release of the memos was this:

While I believe strongly in transparency and accountability, I also believe that in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security. I have already fought for that principle in court and will do so again in the future. However, after consulting with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and others, I believe that exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release.

He proceeds to list several "exceptional circumstances" that led him to, y'know, do what he was legally (not to mention, morally) required to do.

But, IMHO, the most exceptional of all is something that, of course, he didn't say directly: progressives / civil libertarians raised a sizable stink that pressed him to stop stonewalling on this matter (even as he promised to continue practicing the "principles" in court that will keep similarly important information away from the prying eyes of United States citizens).

Glenn Greenwald, who himself deserves much of the credit for raising awareness and outrage about the new administration's withholding of the memos: was not our Congress, nor our media, nor our courts that compelled disclosure of these memos. Instead, it was the ACLU's tenacious efforts over several years which single-handedly pried these memos from the clutched hands of the government. Along with a couple of other civil liberties organizations, the ACLU (with which I consult) has expended extraordinary efforts to ensure at least minimal amounts of openness and transparency in this country, something that was necessary given the profound failures of these other institutions to do so.

The bad news is that, concurrent with releasing the memos, Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder, vowed that CIA torturers and torture-enablers will not be prosecuted. Further, the president went characteristically squishy about, y'know, accountability.

Back to Glenn:

The more one reads of this, the harder it is to credit Obama's statement today that "this is a time for reflection, not retribution." At least when it comes to the orders of our highest government leaders and the DOJ lawyers who authorized them, these are pure war crimes, justified in the most disgustingly clinical language and with clear intent of wrongdoing. FDL has a petition urging Eric Holder to immediately appoint a Special Prosecutor to determine if criminal proceedings should commence.

Obama did the right thing by releasing these memos, providing all the information and impetus the citizenry should need to demand investigations and prosecutions. But it is up to citizens to demand that the rule of law be applied.

Prosecute war criminals, like at Nuremberg? There's no comparison! Our CIA guys were just following orders!

To make matters simpler, shouldn't we pass an Amendment clarifying that no government official should be held accountable for anything, especially if it was done in the service of authoritarianism? Those legal motions and all are such a burden, whether you're Scooter Libby helping international uranium traffickers identify who's watching them, a telecom being paid handsomely to violate the Fourth Amendment, or some poor schlub who's waterboarding prisoners no-more-than twice-daily (according to the memos, third time's the harm).

Chris Floyd is spot on:

The more one considers Obama's remarks, the more offensive they become, and the more flagrantly they insult the intelligence. For the very memos that he has released give the lie to his own statement. Obama says it would be wrong to prosecute CIA underlings for carrying out actions that they were told were legal. Leaving aside the fact that apparently none of these great, courageous, self-sacrificing, vigilant defenders of our "core values" (as Obama lauds them) considered these tortures to be inherently immoral, but simply wanted to cover their ass legally before they wall-slammed the hell out of somebody or poured water down their throats until they began to choke and drown -- the fact is, they were told quite specifically by Bush's White House shysters that there was no guarantee that their actions would be considered legal by a court.

Imagine, harshing the mellow like that with qualms about legality and ethics when the president did something so remarkable... doing what was legally mandated!

Barack Obama is being given great credit for releasing the memos, although as the president himself points out in his statement, their release was actually required by law. I suppose it's true that the United States government has become so degraded that we must be surprised and glad when a president actually obeys the law when it suits him, but I must say that I can't find any great cause for rejoicing -- especially as Obama's statement immediately and definitely ruled out prosecuting any of the direct perpetrators of these criminal actions.

If it's an incomplete victory, and it is, this is still a testament to the value of progressives not sitting around and waiting for a pony to magically appear in every pot and every garage. More like this, please.

No votes yet


Submitted by Anne on

statement, it is more offensive.

I've come to believe that the statement was really a primer for the media on how it should be covered - or if it should be covered at all - there was a bit of "okay, folks, it's all over, nothing to see here, let's move on" about it; there was not one word about it in my newspaper today (but the again, the print version of the Baltimore Sun now averages about 20 pages - including advertising - I seriously do not know why I still subscribe).

And it was a public message to the good men and women of the CIA: Relax - you aren't going to jail.

Also, the more I think about how much time Obama and Holder have had to read these and the many other memos we did not get to see, and to have access to a much larger body of evidence, the more I do not understand why Obama AND Holder did not appear together, with Obama's statement including the announcement that Holder was starting the wheels of justice turning.

Like so much of what Obama says, this is not getting better with time.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Does make a case for Obama's release of the memos being a rare and, as he sees it, "courageous" move. Agree with that assessment or not, Glenn does provide real-world examples of how Villagers are trying to punish him for daring to break the Code of Silence about Beltway misbehavior.

As he points out:

Purely as an analytical matter, releasing the OLC memos and advocating against prosecutions are two separate acts. It's perfectly coherent to praise one and condemn the other.

Submitted by Anne on

it now considered "rare" for a president to follow the law, but it's also being branded "courageous."

Now that doing the right thing is not considered a given, but now gets singled out for special praise, what's next? Wait, I know - Obama can award himself a presidential medal of freedom...

Where I suppose I am with all of this is that I don't trust that what Obama has done has the same kind of meaning he wants people to take from it; I think it's another head-fake, another relatively meaningless bone, a consolation prize he can point to when he wants to pass himself off as a progressive (he'd have to use that term - he would never, EVER, identify as a liberal!). I need to see a consistent and substantive trend of "doing the right thing" before I can stop feeling like this is just one more thing that, instead of being the beginning of real and necessary change, really marks the end of the discussion for him.

oceansandmountains's picture
Submitted by oceansandmountains on

if Obama should be immune from criticism because it has been only x days into his administration then surely it would be prudent to wait to see a pattern of substantive change before allotting praise.

Submitted by lambert on

... from which better things might come. I give it a B. Signal support for the Spanish would be a B+. Prosecution would be an A.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

That seems to be as much as we can "hope" for these days. But the more we push, the more likely that we'll force the whole damn door open completely.

Submitted by lambert on

"More like this, please" should be our rallying cry. For stuff we want more of, that is. Rule of law, transparency, accountability. Basic stuff.