Leaning to the Left

Writing from a liberal persuasion

A New Face on Old Politics

Posted by Beau Winiger on April 21, 2009

The recent release of Bush-era torture memos has shed some light on just what that administration considered humane treatment.  President Obama made the correct decision about the release of these memos, regardless of what the conservative talking heads might be saying to the contrary, but the President has stumbled when he promised that none of the people who tortured but thought they were acting legally will be prosecuted.  The sanctioned actions described and rationalized in the memos are torture, and those that advanced these techniques should be treated as war criminals.

Simply exposing the memos to the public light is not enough to ensure that torture is not perpetrated in America’s name in the future.  Concrete prosecutorial steps must be taken to show both the citizens of America and the rest of the world that America does not believe in torture.  By saying that no one will be prosecuted the administration is saying that although torture is bad, it isn’t really bad enough to warrant any legal action.  Such a stance is indefensible, and is the exact kind of thinking that led to torture in the first place.  The authors of these memos have no place in an America that wishes to show the rest of the world that it does hold some respect for other people.

President Obama has said that this is a time for moving forward, and not looking backward.  This author could not agree more.  It is indeed a time to look forward, but what future are we looking towards when we accept that we live in a nation that justifies the use of torture and sees no need to prosecute the use of torture and the violation of international law.  The future that we should be striving towards should be one where we clean out the skeletons of our past.  One quickly sees the absurdity of Obama’s position when comparisons are made with other egregious acts of American history.  Whether it is slavery, Japanese interment camps, the genocide waged against Native Americans, or the denial of rights to women, America has never been served by simply turning the page on history.  In each of the examples mentioned above the people that were charged with carrying out these laws were simply doing their job.  The administration wishes to add to that shameful roll call by continuing the age-old American tradition of politicians protecting politicians.  One is forced to consider the idea that perhaps this administration is unwilling to prosecute the former administration out of fears that they themselves could be prosecuted by some future administration.  Why else would there be an unwillingness to set a precedent of punishing torture? 

In an issue that is filled with maddening illogical arguments, add to that the conservative pundits and lawmakers who are now bashing President Obama for releasing these memos.  They are not outraged by the fact that the Bush administration tortured, even when they said they didn’t.  No, their outrage stems from the fact that now people know that we tortured, and our enemies will know how to prepare for future possibilities of torture.  They prefer to live in a world where America is a land that will readily resort to secret prisons around the world that ship in prisoners in order to violate international law.  Since these same people often claim that terrorists hate our freedom and democracy one can only assume that they are trying to rid America of freedom in order to deprive the terrorists of their only recruiting tool.

During the election cycle, while I was being told over and over by Obama supporters that he would be different, that he was a new kind of politician, I held fast to my stance of “Let’s wait and see”.  While Obama is by no means a new Bush, he is also in no way a new politician.  He is simply a fresh smiling face plastered on the same old guard.  The new Obama morality holds that we don’t torture anymore, and we will make some of the facts known about the torture that we used to do, but we aren’t going to do anything about it.  The President has set an important precedent, and this author would unfortunately not be surprised if a future administration reveals torture tactics used at Bagram in Afghanistan under the current administration.

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2 Responses to “A New Face on Old Politics”

  1. First let me say I in no way condone torture. I do think you are wrong in believing that those who carried out what they were ordered to do should be prosecuted. They were bound by a legal contract they signed when they took the job, to follow orders, not that it was right, but was legal none the less. Had they disobeyed these orders they would be in prison now. The ones that should be and I hope will be prosecuted are those that wrote the documents to legalize these terrible crimes. When we bring to trial the ones that instigated the legalazation of torture, which I believe should start with our former vice president, then and only then will we show the rest of the world we are not afraid to prosecute those that think they are above the law, or in this case can write a law for their own personal belief.

  2. Valerie said

    Jim I think that if I were given the job of almost killing people just for information I would walk away from that scene. Where are these people’s moral values. My example: Hitler. We punished the German soldiers who were simply doing what they were told and I have a feeling that there consequences for backing out were much worse then the Americans who continued to hurt these people. Violence with Violence. That’s teaching them.

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