Obama Splits the Baby: Releases Torture Memos; Oposses Prosecution of Ex-Bush Cheney Advisers

In Bush/Cheney Administration, human rights, neoconservatives, shameful, war on terror on April 16, 2009 by Editor Z

President Barack Obama today decided to approve the release of four detailed legal memos written by Bush/Cheney administration legal advisers regarding interrogation techniques. The memos by advisers, have long been kept highly secret, as they are believed to contain in detail approval for controversial methods of interrogation such as water boarding. The memos are being released as a result of a lawsuit against the Federal Government under the Freedom of information Act (FOIA) filed by the New York chapter of the ACLU while the previous administration was still in office.

The release of the memos have been met by some controversy as the CIA and Intelligence professionals have expressed opposition, fearing it could open up the possibility of legal charges being brought against U.S Intelligence officials.

New York Times:

The memos, released to meet a court-approved deadline in a lawsuit against the government in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union, detail the dozen harsh techniques approved for use by CIA interrogators, the officials said. One memo also specifically authorized a method for combining multiple techniques, a practice human rights advocates argue crosses the line into torture even if any individual methods does not.

The Obama administration last month released nine legal memos, and probably will release more as the lawsuit proceeds. But the four released Thursday represent the fullest, and now complete, accounting by the government of the methods authorized and used, the officials said.

Those include keeping detainees naked for long periods, keeping them in a painful standing position for long periods, and depriving them of solid food. Other tactics included using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls, keeping the detainee’s cell cold for long periods, and beating and kicking the detainee. Sleep-deprivation, prolonged shackling, and threats to a detainee’s family were also used.

Among the things not allowed in the memos were allowing a prisoner’s body temperature or caloric intake to fall below a certain level, because either could cause permanent damage, said senior administration officials. They discussed the memos on condition of anonymity to more fully describe the president’s decision-making process.

That is the just thing to do. Keeping Americans in the dark about the sins of those in power is never ok. Many worried that Obama would redact such detail and keep those details secret. But for those hoping to see punishment for those who authorized such brutal deeds, they will be disappointed.

Even as they exposed new details of the interrogation program, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, offered the first definitive assurance that those CIA officials are in the clear, as long as their actions were in line with the legal advice at the time.

Obama said the nation must protect the identity of CIA contractors and employees “as vigilantly as they protect our security.”

“We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history,” the president said. “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.”

A mixed result. Not so much of a disappointment that CIA officials and professional interrogators wouldn’t be penalized, but that those in the halls of power who were either dismissive of the ideals embodied by our constitution, who were blinded by their own hysteria as insulating themselves from the public through the authority and judgement vested in them, or who may have just believed that the means justify the ends; will escape prosecution or scrutiny for such poor judgement and disregard for the principles of human rights we have so often embraced and encouraged. But at least now we have a knowledge of what unfolded and just how bad it was. Under Bush/Cheney the public didn’t even get to have knowledge of that. Also at least Obama recognized how severe these approaches were, admitting that this type of treatment and conduct has been a “dark and painful chapter in our history”, a sharp departure from Cheney’s sickening embrace of such practices.

Still one can’t help but feel this is a way to split the difference. A compromise more then a genuine appeal to come to face with these atrocious acts. The release of the memos was vital in confronting some of the sins of our leaders over the past years. But the unequivocal statement that the White House does not support any prosecutions for those who advocated for such techniques,especially the Vice President and torture advocates such as John Yoo, feels a bit like the 1974 decision by President Ford to pardon Nixon.

In the end I can’t say I am surprised. These are politicians who don’t see this as politically advantageous in many cases, and unnecessary in many others. The argument that this will only add to a still very raucous discord in America right now is also a valid concern to some degree. Still its frustrating to see that someone will once again, presented with the Public trust will again be able to get away with acts like this, by hiding behind the Vail of their authority.

UPDATE: The very idea of any U.S Justice Department approving the use of techniques such as placing detainee Abu Zubaydah into a box full of insects is heinous and contrary to the behavior of any civilized country. Additionally it reminds me of the scene in George Orwell’s novel 1984 when Winston is tortured and sent into room 101. Here is the rather dark and hard to watch scene from the movie version.



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