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Saturday, May 16, 2009

A truth commission is our last best hope

Barack Obama is not doing his most hopeful and loyal constituents any favors by making concessions that return us to rule by the Bush-Cheney doctrines. From the time his presidential run was still in the exploratory stages, he received support from people who saw a need to move the country as far away as possible from the assaults against civil liberties, against contriving war on deceptions and attitudes of bully-boy belligerence, and against demoting the military services to IED-fodder.

In not releasing the photos of the treatment of detainees, Obama may be deferring to the warnings of his generals that such photos would inflame America's enemies into a an intensive assault against our troops and our homeland, but he is also affirming the Bush legacy to which he seemed to be a dramatic alternative. He is missing the opportunity to emphasize that the photographs represent what America was under Bush and not what it intends to be under Obama. Establishing the reference points that need to be refuted is not dwelling on the past. It is giving substance to the changes that need to be made.

Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University, states the case this way:

It is one thing to wait to release the photographs in a way that satisfies the U.S. military, which has sacrificed so much in the fight against terrorism. But it is another thing to commingle the call to protect our troops with the politically shrewd reluctance to investigate out of fear that prosecutions might follow. If Obama does nothing else as president, he needs to stand up for the integrity of factual truth and clear thinking rather than the convenience of government-led obfuscation. Not releasing the pictures to reduce public pressure for an investigation of Bush administration officials should not be confused with genuinely protecting the safety of our troops. If it is, Obama cedes the one power he was elected to exercise: the power of leadership in the name of candor, lawfulness and clarity rather than deceit, secrecy and spin.
In merely modifying rather than rejecting military tribunals as a way to demonstrate justice even for those accused of attacking America, rather than totally rejecting the phony due process of the tribunals, Obama is compromising away the support that got him elected. He is trying to be pragmatic and reasonable, but just as there is no reasoning with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, there is no reasoning with the American regressive movement. He was elected to change policy and practice, not piddle away real change with unproductive conciliation.

John Cusack
states the nervous restlessness among those who want to restore America to honesty and moral integrity:
Only now is the knowledge starting to give rise to the widespread outrage and calls for accountability that such crimes against humanity deserve. Growing numbers of citizens are demanding the independent investigation and prosecution of the members of the Bush administration responsible for the vitiation of fundamental legal principles like habeas corpus and the flagrant violation of both international and domestic laws against torture. The pundits, hacks and shills who dismiss these calls for investigation and prosecution -- integral to any serious definition of accountability -- disgrace themselves and their country.
Right now Nancy Pelosi is providing a diversion from the real matters at issue. The rabid, regressive right is using what she knew about waterboarding and when she knew it to divert attention away from the "deceit, secrecy and spin" that is the basis for their anti-terrorism policies. Her statement that she was misled by the CIA in a Congressional briefing is being used as an example of mendacity on her part. This is despite the fact that Sen. Bob Graham has shown that the CIA did not, in fact, give the Senate intelligence committee the briefings it claimed it had.

The New York Times emphasizes that the attacks on Pelosi misdirect attention away from the essential matters at issue:

The furor surrounding Ms. Pelosi’s claim that she was misled has obscured one undisputed fact about the briefings. The Sept. 4, 2002, session, the first given to anyone in Congress on the so-called enhanced interrogation methods, came weeks after the C.I.A. had started to use the methods. Even if Ms. Pelosi had taken action, it is doubtful it would have averted the firestorm about torture that was to come.
Even though Leon Panetta issued a statement that the CIA, the agency he now heads, does not mislead Congress, he did not address the specifics of the issue. In his statement, he implied that a truth commission established by Congress is the way to address the matter: "Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened."

Although President Obama does not want an extensive inquiry into torture and the controversy surrounding it to detract from his agenda to deal with the recession, health care, and his revamping of foreign policy, Congress may have to override him and defer to the people who elected him.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States