Obama’s shameless lack of accountability

President Obama has admitted that the US has tortured people. He likely did this because the release of the US Senate report, even in redacted from, is expected to state unambiguously that the government tortured people and he wants to get ahead of the story.

The United States tortured al Qaida detainees captured after the 9/11 attacks, President Obama said Friday, in some of his most expansive comments to date about a controversial set of CIA practices that he banned after taking office.

“We tortured some folks,” Obama said at a televised news conference at the White House. “We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

Addressing the impending release of a Senate report that criticizes CIA treatment of detainees, Obama said he believed the mistreatment stemmed from the pressure national security officials felt to forestall another attack. He said Americans should not be too “sanctimonious,” about passing judgment through the lens of a seemingly safer present day.

People in government do criminally wrong things, the government denies that they were done at all, then later acknowledges that they lied and did indeed do those thongs, but refuses to take action against those who did the wrong things.

Jonathan Turley says that Obama seems to feel that merely acknowledging publicly that the US has tortured people is enough. It is not. [My emphasis-MS]

First, torture is a war crime and the United States has insisted that it was at war. We have an obligation to investigate and prosecute any officials responsible for torture. Instead, both the Bush and Obama Administrations threatened countries like Spain and England for even investigating aspects of these crimes. Saying that we “tortured some folks” is not compliance with these law – either domestic or international.

Second, it does not matter if we are “afraid” or angry under international law. These treaties clearly reject defenses like “just following orders” or justified torture.

Third, Obama has yet to explain his promise to the CIA employees after taking office. After his election, various high officials said that Obama told them privately that no Bush or CIA officials would be prosecuted. His staff denied the stories but he then soon thereafter told the CIA staff precisely that.

Finally, not only has the United States refused to hold our own officials to the same standards that we impose on other countries, but those responsible for our torture program are giving interviews and writing books in plain sight. In the meantime, the Administration has successfully blocked torture victims from seeking judicial review or relief in our courts.

Of course anyone other than the most jingoistic has known that the US has been brutally torturing people for a long, long time. What has happened is that they have become more brazen about it and have got caught. By acknowledging it but not taking action to punish those who did it, what Obama has done is send a signal those who do wrong things that they can do more and even worse wrong things and will not be punished as long as it is what the president wants.

And what is it with this ‘folks’ business? I have noticed that Obama uses that word (and also drops the ‘g’ at the end of words) when he wants to minimize the seriousness of some action by sounding down-home. Those who were tortured were not ‘folks’, they were people. And what is this vague ‘some folks’ language? What we need to know is who was tortured, how many times, in what way, and by whom.

The fact that Obama has not fired CIA director John Brennan or DNI James Clapper for outright lying may be due to the fact that they know that Obama is also culpable in its actions, as Conor Friedersdorf suggests. So by protecting them, he is protecting himself.


  1. says

    According to Democratic cheerleaders, this can be justified with a smug, “But the Republicans would have been worse.” Apparently war crimes, like… um, other crimes, can be graded on an acceptability scale.

  2. lorn says

    Obama states the truth and somehow this means he should be impeached? I would think this would be a step in the right direction.

    Yes, I know, y’all have a burning desire to see all sins punished and justice served but most adults have long ago, either by study of the historical record, or osmotic apprehension of the facts, concluded that most inhumanities go unpunished. That the bad guys, if they get powerful enough, prosper and get away with it. That mostly, with good reason, we cut our losses and agree that the brutes will step down quietly and in return they get to live out their days spending their ill gotten booty dissipating on a tropical beach.

    Look up and contemplate the end of Idi Amin, a figure that makes the worse US criminals look like saints:


    This is the way of the world. Historically, wealth and power, and connection to an existing power base, tend to protect individuals from trial and punishment. Fact is that it is only failure to maintain wealth and/or power, or lack of a remaining power base (as with defeated Nazi Germany ) do you see any significant numbers of prosecutions.

    People can make themselves feel better, and superior, by railing on about the injustice of it all and how that is not how it should work and how it is a failure of ideals and law but, in the end, after the shouting, nothing is ever done to change this dynamic. Prosecuting powerful perpetrators, or Obama for failing to prosecute powerful perpetrators, isn’t going to change a thing. It is a waste of time and resources. A distraction away from the issues we really could be making progress with.

    I wish the ones I know about really could be prosecuted but that is not how the world works. Maybe in a century or two, in far more egalitarian world justice would fall evenly on the wealthy and poor alike but no … not yet.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Cynical defeatist trolls with hardwired senses of superiority will post comments decrying all attempts to make any part of the world better, and will whine like starving puppies at any trace of criticism.

    This is just the way of the world, and all you losers who think you can ever do anything at all in any way to improve things should just shut up and accept your inferiority relative to these all-knowing do-nothings.

  4. says

    I’m sorry, Lorn, but that’s bullshit. By admitting the usage of torture, without taking any steps to bring to justice those who allowed it to happen, gives tacit approval to the usage of torture on American soldiers and civilians.

    How the hell are we supposed to call for redress when our own people are abused when we are unwilling to give redress to those we have abused? We have abrogated our moral superiority and we will not begin to reclaim it until we start to deal with the people responsible for abrogating it.

    Prosecuting these people will absolutely change things. And if Obama isn’t going to do it he damn well deserves to be impeached for this. Torture didn’t make us safer, it made us more vulnerable. And we won’t be safer until we make people take responsibility.

  5. says

    If he admitted that the US has tortured people and is not doing anything about it, he’s violating the UN convention on torture. Hey! That’s something the republicans can impeach him for!!! But only after they ship Bush, Rummy, Condi, and that stinking crew off to The Hague.

  6. says

    As you pointed out, the US didn’t just torture “some folks” — they tortured hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people, many of whom were tortured until they died or went insane. Until Obama is open about both the scale and severity of the US torture programs, and brings the torturers to justice (both the soldiers and the politicians), I don’t think anyone should be congratulating him.

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