Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama and torture: one campaign promise apparently kept

I asked for it several weeks ago, so it is only fitting that I acknowledge that President Obama appears (subject only to confirmaton when we see the details of his orders) to have done exactly what he said he would do about torture:

Promising that “a new era of American leadership is at hand,” President Barack Obama has promised that the United States “will not torture” detainees. A series of presidential orders will outlaw rendition flights, order the closings of the CIA’s “black sites,” and outlaw the use of coercive interrogations, physical abuse, and waterboarding.

The move has been applauded by many, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which said “a ban on torture says much about us - who we are, what we believe about human life and dignity, and how we act as a nation.” The Bush Adminiatration repeatedly insisted that they didn’t torture, but kept its definition of torture loose enough to allow a myriad of harsh interrogation methods.

And while Obama’s nominee for director of national intelligence refused to say whether he considered waterboarding “torture,” he assured that the practice would not continue under his watch. He likewise later told reporters that an Obama task force would examine past practices and said he thought agents who violated internal standards “should be held accountable.”

I will continue to disagree as vociferously as possible with economic or foreign policies of the new administration when I think they are ill-advised. But--if only for the sake of intellectual consistency--I will also accord President Obama full marks every time he does something right.

This is right. Taken in tandem with his EO on the closing of Gitmo, President Obama has moved to remove a major stain from the honor of the United States by disowning inconstitutional tactics that--Jack Bauer fantasies aside--have not made us one whit safer since 9/11.

Thank you, Mr. President.


Bowly said...

But will he really keep it?

But the orders leave unresolved complex questions surrounding the closing of the Guantánamo prison, including whether, where and how many of the detainees are to be prosecuted. They could also allow Mr. Obama to reinstate the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation operations in the future, by presidential order, as some have argued would be appropriate if Osama bin Laden or another top-level leader of Al Qaeda were captured.

The new White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, briefed lawmakers about some elements of the orders on Wednesday evening. A Congressional official who attended the session said Mr. Craig acknowledged concerns from intelligence officials that new restrictions on C.I.A. methods might be unwise and indicated that the White House might be open to allowing the use of methods other than the 19 techniques allowed for the military.

To me it reads more like, "We won't do it anymore, unless we need to."

Anonymous said...

Obama seeks to ingriate himself with other nations who rely on the U S for so many things like security yet they want to dictate and put conditions on how we provide that security.

Obama has made the country less safe and the consequences will be dire.

It is not wise for a President to take a stand which appeals to the sensitivities of people who seek to harm our country.

Hube said...

Bowly is correct. That, and the actual wording of the order does NOT outlaw so-called "rendition flights": The detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order. If any individuals covered by this order remain in detention at Guantánamo at the time of closure of those detention facilities, they shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.

Of course, Obama can say, "Well, we did not send [insert name] to [insert country] as a rendition flight. We cannot be responsible for his treatment once he is out of US custody."

(Also note that the "or transferred to another United States detention facility" means that the detainees can simply go ... to another overseas US jail! How precisely is that any different than what Gitmo is?)

In addition, what precisely is the definition of "coercive interrogation?" "Physical abuse?" Are we really going to include (among others, that so-called human rights groups have protested) things like "too much air conditioning?" That the "music is too loud?" Not letting someone sit down when they want to?

Prisoners in our own domestic state and federal prisons bear worse treatment than al Qaeda terrorists. And that's pathetic.