In reversing himself and declaring that the US government will not release further photos in its possession of torture being practiced on captives held by the US military and the CIA, President Obama is sounding increasingly like the Bush/Cheney administration before him.
It may well be that, as Obama says, release of those photos could lead to anger in the Islamic world and perhaps to recruitment gains among groups like Al Qaeda that are attacking American troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but this is only true because at the same time, the Obama administration is opposing taking any legal action against the people who authorized and promoted that torture.
If the Obama administration were to open a full-scale legal investigation into torture, with an independent prosecutor assigned to go after anyone who violated the Geneva Conventions and the US Criminal Code outlawing torture and the authorization, condoning or covering-up of torture, quite the opposite would happen: people in the Islamic world would see that this nation was coming to terms with those who abused the law.
As things stand, we have a only few people at the very bottom of the chain of command who are doing jail time or suffering administrative punishments for committing acts of torture and abuse which they believed had been ordered and authorized by leaders in the military, the Secretary of Defense’s office, and the White House, but not one of those in authority who set the torture of captives in motion has been called to justice. Obama has endorsed that situation by again referring to the torture as just the actions of “a few people.”
It was hardly that, however, and he knows it. Torture was a major part of the Bush/Cheney so-called “War” on Terror, and was being conducted on an industrial scale, with White House lawyers providing legal cover, the Secretary of Defense sending memos urging every more aggressive techniques, and government doctors and psychologists working assiduously to make them more “effective.”
The illogic of Obama’s position on these photos is stunning. Since we know the photos exist, the refusal to make them public can only feed a sense that they must be worse than the horrific photos of torture at Abu Ghraib Prison which were already released. Nobody is going to assume that the photos in the White House’s possession are less offensive than what has already been discovered and made public–for why would the administration be worried about that?
The truth is always better than a cover-up, and what we now have the president advocating is a cover-up of American torture.
But that’s only part of the president’s slide into Cheneyism. We have the president now calling for the possible indefinite detention of terror suspects–an idea that only insures that there will always be an incentive for recruiting more terrorists (to avenge those in captivity)–and that makes a joke of our own Constitution, which guarantees everyone–not just citizens–the right to a trial, the right to a presumption of innocence, and protection from “cruel and unusual punishment,” which indefinite detention certainly is.
The war in Afghanistan, which now must be called Obama’s War, thanks to his policy of escalation, is also becoming Cheneyesque, with the firing of Gen. David McKiernan, and his replacement as head of the Afghanistan War by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Gen. McChrystal hails from the Special Forces, and played a role in the torture that was integral to the US war and occupation in Iraq. Far from being put in charge of operations in Afghanistan, where public backing for the US military is virtually non-existent at this point, McChrystal should be facing investigation and possible prosecution here at home for his role in torture of captives.
It has never made sense to initiate a war in Afghanistan in order to go after a band of criminal terrorists hidiing out in the mountains. Bush and Cheney turned what should have been a focused hunt for Al Qaeda terrorists into a war on the Taliban government and ultimately the people of Afghanistan. Obama has continued that error, and now blithely hyphenates the terms Al Qaeda and Taliban in defining the “enemy” of American forces in that country.
Such a war can never be won, and can only lead to tragedy, not just for the people of Afghanistan, for whom it is already that, but for American troops and ultimately for America itself.
It is a war that never should have been fought, and which now should be ended as rapidly as possible.
Obama at this point, by covering up for official torture, and by signing on to and expanding the war in Afghanistan, is dooming his presidency, further staining the reputation of the United States, and ultimately furthering the decline of the country that was set in motion by his predecessors.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org