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Praising Moral Cowards, Ignoring Real Heroes

It turned out to be harder than I expected to find the complete texts of the statements made by President Obama, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and CIA Director Leon Panetta on Thursday as the Office of Legal Council torture memos were being released. Thanks to Spencer Ackerman , I have located them and post them here.
Reading these statements in their entirety, they are as chilling as the memos themselves. While the memos describe the torture program in meticulous, bureaucratic detail — including the temperature of water to be used to chill people, and the length and number of waterboarding episodes permitted per day — the statements from our President and two of his top officials heap praise upon those who were all to willing to sacrifice their morals and decency in pursuit of this horrific program.

To proclaim the torturers as heroes and to thank them for committing horrors is to spit in the face of those who suffered from this program of state-sponsored torture, not just from the CIA, but the thousands who experienced this programs derivative programs at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan. These statements also poke a finger in the eyes of all those human rights advocates and simply decent people who for years fought against this and related programs of state-sponsored abuse.

And, perhaps most disturbingly, to absolve and convey hero status to those who shelved their consciences is an insult to the true heroes of this sordid chapter in our history, the many men and women in our military and our government who refused to go along and protested and fought against these acts of state-sponsored horror. For the interrogators who gave up careers spanning decades out of shame over what their profession was being turned into, the  Jags who fought the development of this policy and risked scorn in defending the the “worst of the worst,” the prosecutors who denounced the concealing of abuse in the highly politicized trials at Guantanamo, again at the cost of careers, and those officials like Albert Mora who took seriously their obligation to defend the constitution are real heroes. These are the individuals who deserve the praise of our leaders and our people.

We can continue to debate what type of accountability there should be for the guards, interrogators, doctors and psychologists who implemented these policies. But they are not heroes. They are not people to be thanked. They are not people who did their best in the difficult circumstances after 911. They are at best sad human beings who went along with authority when their nation needed them to refuse, individuals without a moral compass, examples to be held up as an example of what our children of what they must do their best not to become. They are no better, perhaps even worse, than the rightly scorned MPs of Abu Ghraib.

Despite the political courage it took to release these documents, the leaders who issued these statements praising the CIA agents of torture are ultimately moral cowards, afraid to tell the public what it needs to hear. They represent, not the change we need, but the stability that makes future state-sanctioned abuses all the more likely.

Obama

To the Men and Women of CIA:

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the work you are doing for the country. Your work has informed every President dating back to President Truman and it protects our people. I have come to rely on your service and I believe strongly that it is vital to the security of our country. Given the threats, challenges, and opportunities facing America, the CIA remains as critical today as it has ever been to our Nation’s security. While necessity requires that the country may not know all of your names or the work that you do, all of us enjoy the freedom that you have helped secure.

I also wanted to share with you a decision that I made last night. Later today, the Department of Justice will release certain memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005. I did not make this decision lightly. As you may know, the release is part of an ongoing court case. I have fought for the principle that the United States must carry out covert activities and hold information that is classified for the purposes of national security and will do so again in the future. But the release of these memos is required by our commitment to the rule of law.

Much of the information contained in the memos has been in the public domain, and the previous Administration has acknowledged portions of the program – and some of the practices – associated with them. My judgment on this is a matter of record. I have prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques, and I reject the false choice between our security and our ideals.

In releasing these memos, the men and women of the CIA have assurances from both myself, and from Attorney General Holder, that we will protect all who acted reasonably and relied upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that their actions were lawful. The Attorney General has assured me that these individuals will not be prosecuted and that the Government will stand by them.

The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. They need to be fully confident that as they defend the Nation, I will defend them. We will protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security.
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. The national greatness that you so courageously and capably uphold is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence.

It is a core American value that we are a Nation of laws, and the CIA protects and upholds that principle under extraordinarily difficult circumstances every day. My Administration will always act in accordance with the law, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.

Thank you for your service, and God bless the work that you do.

Barack Obama

Blair

The Department of Justice released today four previous Office of Legal Counsel opinions which concluded certain harsh interrogation techniques used by CIA officers on suspected al Qa’ida terrorists were legal. The opinions spell out in graphic detail techniques used in questioning high value detainees suspected of involvement in, and plans for, terrorist activity against the United States and its allies.

As the leader of the Intelligence Community, I am trying to put these issues into perspective. We cannot undo the events of the past; we must understand them and use this understanding as we move into the future.

It is important to remember the context of these past events. All of us remember the horror of 9/11. For months afterwards we did not have a clear understanding of the enemy we were dealing with, and our every effort was focused on preventing further attacks that would kill more Americans. It was during these months that the CIA was struggling to obtain critical information from captured al Qa’ida leaders, and requested permission to use harsher interrogation methods. The OLC memos make clear that senior legal officials judged the harsher methods to be legal.

Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing. As the President has made clear, and as both CIA Director Panetta and I have stated, we will not use those techniques in the future. But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos and those guidelines.

As a young Navy officer during the Vietnam years, I experienced public scorn for those of us who served in the Armed Forces during an unpopular war. Challenging and debating the wisdom and policies linked to wars and warfighting is important and legitimate; however disrespect for those who serve honorably within legal guidelines is not. I remember well the pain of those of us who served our country even when the policies we were carrying out were unpopular or could be second-guessed.

We in the Intelligence Community should not be subjected to similar pain. Let the debate focus on the law and our national security. Let us be thankful that we have public servants who seek to do the difficult work of protecting our country under the explicit assurance that their actions are both necessary and legal.

There will almost certainly be more public attention about the actions of intelligence agencies in the past. What we must do is make it absolutely clear to the American people that our ethos is to act legally, in as transparent a manner as we can, and in a way that they would be proud of if we could tell them the full story.

Panetta

This afternoon, the Department of Justice is releasing a series of opinions that its Office of Legal Counsel provided CIA between 2002 and 2005. They guided CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which ended this past January. Over the life of that initiative, CIA repeatedly sought and repeatedly received written assurances from the Department of Justice that its practices were fully consistent with the laws and legal obligations of the United States. Those operations were also approved by the President and the National Security Council principals, and were briefed to the Congressional leadership.

As this information is revealed, it is important to understand the context in which these operations occurred. In the wake of September 11th, the President turned to CIA—as Presidents have done so often in our history—and entrusted our officers with the most critical of tasks: to disrupt the terrorist network that struck our country and prevent further attacks. CIA responded, as duty requires.

Although this Administration has now put into place new policies that CIA is implementing, the fact remains that CIA’s detention and interrogation effort was authorized and approved by our government. For that reason, as I have continued to make clear, I will strongly oppose any effort to investigate or punish those who followed the guidance of the Department of Justice.

The President and the Attorney General have also made clear that there will be no investigation or prosecution of CIA personnel who operated within the legal system. In addition, the Department will provide legal representation to CIA personnel subject to investigations relating to these operations.

This is not the end of the road on these issues. More requests will come—from the public, from Congress, and the Courts—and more information is sure to be released. We cannot control the debate about the past. But we can and must remain focused on our mission today and in the future. The President and the rest of our citizens are counting on all of us to help disrupt, destroy, and dismantle al Qa’ida—and to learn the plans of our other adversaries. We have an obligation to this nation and to each other to do all we can to protect America.

This is an exceptional organization of talented men and women, dedicated to our national security. It is an extraordinarily capable organization that quietly defends our country while following its laws and upholding its values. For that reason, I am proud to stand beside you as your Director. And for that reason, this President—and future Presidents—will continue to ask us to undertake the hard missions that only we can. This is an opportunity for CIA to begin a new and great chapter in our history of service to the nation.

You need to be fully confident that as you defend the nation, I will defend you.

Leon E. Panetta

STEPHEN SOLDZ is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He maintains the Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice web site and the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. He is a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the organizations leading the struggle to change American Psychological Association policy on participation in abusive interrogations. He is also a Steering Committee member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility [PsySR].

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STEPHEN SOLDZ is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He edits the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. He is a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the organizations working to change American Psychological Association policy on participation in abusive interrogations. He is President-Elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility [PsySR].

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