Green Room

Obama’s “Never Again” on Torture Means “Lots More, Soon”

posted at 2:42 pm on April 18, 2009 by

The Obama Administration’s release of the so-called “torture memos” this week occasioned much discussion (as well as its unhinged semblance) in all ten dimensions of the blogosphere and the media, and, also, of course, at the very highest level:

At a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future. The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, 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.

Thus spake Obamathustra.  Warning: Any attempt to tease substance from this gloopy confection of hokum and twaddle may put your teaser at risk – but most of us know this by now, don’t we?  Many of us here, I suspect, already realized a good year or so ago that it rarely pays to listen to Barack Obama very closely.

No one knows this better than his fans:  If you’re one of them, the less that you bother with whatever he actually says or does, the less you have to carry along as you jump on your high hobby horse.  It therefore almost goes without saying that Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan were rather delighted with the above Obamian emanation and even more with the release of White House Office of Legal Counsel documents that it accompanied.

With customary sobriety and thoughtful reticence, Greenwald summarized the memos as follows:  “They are unbelievably ugly and grotesque and conclusively demonstrate the sadistic criminality that consumed our government.”  Sullivan was also quite restrained:  “If you want to know how democracies die, read these memos.”

At a far other pole of the ‘sphere, Abe Greenwald at Contentions found a basis for satire.  Referring to a CIA interrogator’s request to pressure insectophobic terrorist Abu Zubaydah with a harmless caterpillar, Greenwald exclaims, “Does the sadism of Dick Cheney know no bounds!”  The post closes on a tender note, envisioning a future in which “after much national soul searching, we will look at the caterpillar not as an instrument of torture, but as a future butterfly once again.”  Greenwald’s submission led to a 100+ comment thread – a high percentage of the responses from spittley mini-Sullivans taking advantage of Contentions’ open registration to condemn all those who dared to chuckle.  That would be the equivalent of a 2,000-post thread at a high-traffic blog like HotAir.

It was left to former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, neither of whom were in those positions during the period covered by the memos, to give their direct and entirely unfunny pushback in a widely read WSJ op-ed.  Under the title “The President Ties His Own Hands on Terror,” and under the argumentative sub-title “the point of interrogation is intelligence, not confession,” they quietly and forcefully make a case not so much in favor of the particular interrogation methods, but against the President’s morally self-serving but otherwise pointless posturing.

The effect of this disclosure on the morale and effectiveness of many in the intelligence community is not hard to predict. Those charged with the responsibility of gathering potentially lifesaving information from unwilling captives are now told essentially that any legal opinion they get as to the lawfulness of their activity is only as durable as political fashion permits. … Beyond that, anyone in government who seeks an opinion from the OLC as to the propriety of any action, or who authors an opinion for the OLC, is on notice henceforth that such a request for advice, and the advice itself, is now more likely than before to be subject after the fact to public and partisan criticism. It is hard to see how that will promote candor either from those who should be encouraged to ask for advice before they act, or from those who must give it.

Referring to the work of author Jack Goldsmith, Hayden and Mukasey observe the dysfunctional “cycles of aggression and timidity” that melodramatic bloggers like Sullivan and Greenwald, in refusing to confront, instead serve to exemplify and in their own small way help to perpetuate:  “Politicians pressure the intelligence community to push to the legal limit, and then cast accusations when aggressiveness goes out of style, thereby encouraging risk aversion, and then, as occurred in the wake of 9/11, criticizing the intelligence community for feckless timidity.”  If that’s too abstract for you, Rush Limbaugh gave the succinct political precis (quoted from memory):  “The next time there’s an attack, Barack Obama will own it.”

My own translation:  There will likely be acts of terror against the US again; some day war will again be brought to our shores.  At that time, perhaps after a period of lethal hesitation and confusion, the moral preening of Barack Obama, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, and the endless legions of internet trolls and bloggers, will be set aside, perhaps by Obama himself; if not, then by some unlucky successor.  The files holding the OLC opinions will be opened and updated, and the methodologies will be, where possible, extended, intensified, and modernized.

As whatever crisis looms or grows, the longer we wait, the more violently we will likely end up breaking (and need to break) with our impossible and inutile self-restraint.  At some point, if all goes well, we’ll later undergo yet another period of self-exorcism, self-distancing, self-terror, and moral pretense – until the next crisis forces us to admit again that we’re all too human:  Overcompensation in one direction will follow overcompensation in the other.  In the bloody and smoking ruins of some major American landmark, much less a whole American city, much less of a reign of terror, much less a threatened complete breakdown of law and order, leaders who refuse to act exactly as cruelly, even inhumanely, as the times seem to require, and probably a little more so, will be swept aside and consigned to infamy.

To the likes of Sullivan and Greenwald-gauche, Bush, Cheney, Yoo, and the other World Enemies of Big Obrother and his righteous word-warriors already transformed the United States into a “terror state.”   To me, what they seem to have done is painstakingly search for solutions of the uncertain moment:  What seemed to be good enough to have a chance to work, and not a jot of unnecessary pain or danger more.  In short, they met spectacular terror, and the threat of unlimited follow-ons, with precision-guided terror, adjusted pragmatically, terminated at the earliest opportunity.  Unintended but inevitable collateral effects, including a certain contagious moral corrosion (Abu Ghraib, perhaps), were limited, but still quite painful.

It’s a mature standard, as imperfect and difficult and as superficially contradictory to our “core values” as any wartime exigency – and it’s what we’ll probably try next time, too.  It’s the kind of compromise Barack Obama and all the rest of us are accepting right now, and that no one has yet been able to avoid this side of New Jerusalem:  the embrace of the lesser evil against the greater, as messy as the world is messy – shooting teenagers rather than risk death to one American hostage; bombing a compound full of women and children in hopes of getting a high value target; continuing to render prisoners to unsqeamish regimes, while looking away and washing our hands; and so on, and so on.  Our government of “laws not men” is the product and tool of living and breathing men and women, all of whom will face experiences in their lives far worse than any particular “torture” visited on Zubaydah & Co., all of whom already live – right now, today – with the reality of our government, now under Obama, doing and threatening far worse things to far less certainly guilty people, to certainly innocent people, for the sake of some perceived greater good.  It’s in this context that we must read the torture memos, never forgetting that the writers were seeking a means that we – or most of us – could live with, to an end that we – almost all of us – demanded.

If unilateral disarmament against mass terror means that we become victims of it, we will do whatever seems necessary, quite likely will do a lot more than is strictly necessary, to put a stop to it.  Assuming we succeed, we’ll then adopt something like the Bush OLC and CIA’s approach going forward, and rightly congratulate ourselves for our restraint.  In the meantime, Obama’s “never again,” which Sullivan repeats and praises, already reads as “more, now” – just where we’re not choosing to look.  Only the same kind of willful blindness can stop us from reading it further as “lots more, and worse, and probably sooner than you think.”

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I’ve been reading over the 80 pagegs of released memos, and the one thing that has not come up in any discussions I’ve seen thus far, is the legal parsing, the extreme attention to detail paid to the finer points of law, of legal precedence, and making sure that every single recommendation that CIA sought approval for was approved on the basis of standing law. Nothing was made up to fit the circumstance.

The memos make ponderous reading, but it is in the details…alluding to the discussions of law…where the memos are actually a real vindication of the Bush Administration.

Contrary to popular myth, the Bush Administration did go about this willy-nilly…they documented, asked serious legal questions, and made sure every “i” was dotted and every “t” was crossed before proceeding.

As for the operational details of these memos…this is where the travesty has been committed.

Way too much detail on sources and methods. The interrogation methods themselves, that is where we have given away information to an enemy and potential enemies.

Obama has given the bad guys a primer on how to get through the American Satan’s evil interrogations.

And, these memos show conclusively that also contrary to popular myth, these detainees were well treated and looked after, were given far far better medical check-ups, better medical consultations, better preventive medical care, better follow-up care, and more attention to their medical needs (not connected to their interrogations) than most Americans ever see.

Had Eric Holder been permitted to make the call, even more would have been released…aiding and abetting our enemies to an even greater extent…and putting the lives of hundreds of our intelligence professionals at grave risk.

Now…does this mean Obama intends to do more? Perhaps worse?

That, sir, is the trillion dollar question.

coldwarrior on April 18, 2009 at 2:57 PM

coldwarrior – thanks for your comment: I disagree only in one respect. One of the favorite tactics of Greenwald and Sullivan especially is to seize upon “the legal parsing, the extreme attention to detail paid to the finer points of law, of legal precedence,” take it out of context, then emotively attack the parser as some Nazi-like “desk murderer.” The work of citing a precedent becomes the “banality of evil.” Referring to historical examples of suspension of normal rules of law – as under Lincoln or Roosevelt – will be turned into ominous warnings that Yoo was preparing to suspend the write of habeus corpus or internment camps. It’s a truly reprehensible and dishonest tactic, a big part of what makes Greenwald, Sullivan, and all their fervent imitators and replicators so difficult to read.

CK MacLeod on April 18, 2009 at 3:26 PM

I can’t get this picture out of my mind. A captive is tied to a chair in front of a television playing a DVD of Obama speaking without the help of a teleprompter.

The captive is screaming, “I’ll talk! I’ll talk!”

Daggett on April 18, 2009 at 3:29 PM

Oh, I forgot to mention the best part. The DVD is Obama explaining why the USA will never use torture…

Daggett on April 18, 2009 at 3:31 PM

Let’s see… out own soldiers in preparation are subjected to water boarding which is the suppose to be the harshest form of torture…

Thousands of contestants on Fear Factor lined up voluntarily no less, to be dropped in a glass coffin with thousands of stinging snakes and scorpions for 15 minutes of fame….

Why at I missing here?

katy on April 18, 2009 at 3:39 PM

what am I missing here….

katy on April 18, 2009 at 3:40 PM

Obama says that he will not torture terrorists, the bad guys. But, he is torturing the American people, the very people that he, as President, is required to protect. He’s never had a job and now he’s President. He has nothing but contempt for this Country, it is shown every time he goes overseas. People here that adore him are vacant souls. He scares the living S..t out of me. I don’t trust him. I don’t like him. I can’t believe in my 57 years, I am saying that about an American President.

suzyk on April 18, 2009 at 3:41 PM

I think about “The Falling Man,” then I don’t feel so bad for all the mujahideen down in Gitmo.

Not that I ever felt bad in the first place..

blatantblue on April 18, 2009 at 3:41 PM

F*ckin’ A — I’m feeling angry about this.

Do the liberals ever think about all those people trapped in the 100th floor of the North and South WTC Towers?

I try to put myself in that position. I close my eyes, imagine the city out around one of them, smoke behind, above, and under them on the 100th floor, and I picture them closing their eyes and jumping. It’s enough to make my heart stop.

And the Obama Badministration is worried about bugs!!!

And water!

blatantblue on April 18, 2009 at 3:44 PM

Of course there’ll be abother attack. And the left will thrill at the idea that Obama will have conservatives investigated over it.

JohnJ on April 18, 2009 at 3:44 PM

Related: Caterpillars of Doom

TallDave on April 18, 2009 at 3:45 PM

They worry about cold, sleep deprived mujahids in Gitmo! F*ck em’, I say.

Just one beta male’s opinion.

Send the Kalab back to frickin’ Allah. Give ’em their 72 virgins (which some suspect are really raisins)!!!!

blatantblue on April 18, 2009 at 3:46 PM

Well … the MSM is playing this off as “torture” … but Obama has now all but admitted that it’s not. He’d like you to THINK he’s calling it torture … but he can’t have his cake and eat it too.

Let’s start with the fact that HE OWNS the government now and there’s no one standing in his way of pressing charges against Bush administration officials. And let’s also point out the fact there is no shortage of whacko Democrats on the hill who would support and fund the investigations and trials of Bush and his boys.

So why isn’t Obama prosecuting? If it’s out of some “gentlemanly” concern for his predecessor – well his concern is misplaced if his predecessor truly engaged in a torture culture. And with everything else Obama has blamed Bush with – hell he’s even blaming Bush for the right wing extremist report from DHS – it’s a bit out of character for Obama to suddenly have feelings for George Bush.

MY CHALLENGE TO DEMOCRATS … it’s not too much to ask you to put your money where your mouth is since you’re now in charge of the government. You’ve said that GW engaged in torture. You demonized the man, slurred him with the label.

So now that you are in charge – if that’s true – BRING THE CHARGES ON OR STFU.

HondaV65 on April 18, 2009 at 3:47 PM

No mercy on the mujahideen of the world.

Double tap em all

blatantblue on April 18, 2009 at 3:49 PM

Pres. Obama will use any means necessary to make sure that the country is safe on his watch, totally secure in the belief that deviation from his publicly stated positions will remain secret. Courtesy of a morally bankrupt Fourth Estate.

Cindy Munford on April 18, 2009 at 3:50 PM

CK MacLeod on April 18, 2009 at 3:26 PM

True points, all.

But, having gone through the actual exercise, at the Cabinet level, dotting “i’s” and crossing “t’s” many many times in the course of my former career, the utmost care was applied here to make sure that there would be no precedent set by making it up as they went along. And no loose ends that could leave an opening for one or two or more intelligence operators to wing it.

Of course, it is easy, if one has no concept of the real facts involved, to try to make that transition to the spirit of pre-Nuremberg Germany, where everything was of course “legal” and “following legal orders” was the norm.

But, we do not own the judiciary. We, being those of us who were or are promulgating the fight against very bad people intent on doing us harm. This is evident in many judicial rulings, to include the present one requiring Obama to release all sorts of details about the NSA, a federal court judge deciding on his own national security matters. A decision, Obama or no Obama, I vehemently oppose.

Only the most naive of an observer would liken how taking extreme care to follow the letter of the law, and to delay a program until that law could be read, ascertained and understood, is in any way analogous to pre-Nuremberg Germany.

But, as we have seen, the constant rounds of pundits quoting pundits in our national debate takes precedence over an actual discussion of known facts. The amount of hyperbole shown by these same pundits over the past few days has shown that perhaps they are indeed the most naive of observers.

coldwarrior on April 18, 2009 at 3:55 PM

Fetch…. the comfy chair!!

Daggett on April 18, 2009 at 3:55 PM

Cindy Munford on April 18, 2009 at 3:50 PM

I have wondered that myself. But I think he wants the US to suffer. This is an angry man who has harbored controlled rage against this country his entire adult life.
A calamity would give him a strong reason to exert the control he would need to implement his full and unobstructed agenda.
American casualties are not a concern to him. I do believe he is that cold.

katy on April 18, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Obama will “outscore” it:

Too bad we often get filtered information from third parties.

toliver on April 18, 2009 at 4:06 PM

Obama will “outscore” it:

Too bad we often get filtered information from third parties.

toliver on April 18, 2009 at 4:06 PM

Good God, I need to preview my comments. I meant to type OUTSOURCE.

toliver on April 18, 2009 at 4:07 PM

If my memory is correct, as far as the whole “bombing a bus load of children to kill a high value target” thing goes, technically speaking it is not only a necessity but also allowed for according to both the 4th Geneva Convention and LOAC.

Although civilians may not be made the object of a direct attack, the LOAC recognizes that a military target need not be spared because its destruction may cause collateral damage that results in the unintended death or injury to civilians or damage to their property.

However, if these objects are used for military purposes, they lose their immunity.

Ryan Gandy on April 18, 2009 at 4:09 PM

He scares the living S..t out of me.
suzyk on April 18, 2009 at 3:41 PM

Could that be defined as domestic terrorism/torture??

Why yes it can..

allrsn on April 18, 2009 at 4:17 PM

So now that you are in charge – if that’s true – BRING THE CHARGES ON OR STFU.

HondaV65 on April 18, 2009 at 3:47 PM

I have been echoing this same sentiment since the dems took control in 06 concerning impeachment.

They have whined and cried about “Bush lied us into war” and “war crimes” for years.
They now have the majorities on the hill to back up all their accusations and have done nothing.
Either they are just as guilty as Bush or Bush is innocent of these bogus accusations.
I am right with you Honda…Put up or Shut up!!!! liberals.

We do know that none of these methods were used without the consent of democrats and Republicans:

Hill Briefed on Waterboarding in 2002
In Meetings, Spy Panels’ Chiefs Did Not Protest, Officials Say

By Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 9, 2007; A01

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

“The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough,” said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

What Congress Knew About ‘Torture’

Beginning in 2002, Nancy Pelosi and other key Democrats (as well as Republicans) on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were thoroughly, and repeatedly, briefed on the CIA’s covert antiterror interrogation programs. They did nothing to stop such activities, when they weren’t fully sanctioning them. If they now decide the tactics they heard about then amount to abuse, then by their own logic they themselves are complicit. Let’s review the history the political class would prefer to forget.

Democrats that were fully Briefed on interrogation tactics including water boarding.
(D)Rep. Nancy Pelosi
(D)Rep. Jane Harmon
(D)Rep. Bob Graham
(D)Rep. John Rockefeller

All of these methods were known by the same people who are crying now about the abuses of the Bush administration.
All of these methods were approved by this liberal leadership.
Now where have we seen this 180′ turn of policy when it does not suit someone politically before.
Oh yea,the same methods used by democrats concerning their decade of yelling about how dangerous Saddam was with WMD’s / nuclear program and ties to al-qaeda which lead them to support and vote for the Iraq war.
Until it became a political problem,then it was “Bush lied” and”Big dumb Bush tricked all of us super smart democrats”.
But anyone paying attention knows exactly why the democrats pull these 180′ on policies that they supported:

Congressman admits Democrats “stretched the facts,” misled anti-war supporters about supposed plans for ending War

Submitted by Jeff Emanuel on Thu, 05/22/2008 – 8:18pm.

You see, Paul Kanjorski has an honesty problem.
More specifically, Paul Kanjorski’s problem is that he was publicly honest about the intentional dishonesty of Congressional Democrats (and Democrat candidates) in the run-up to the 2006 election — particularly with regard to the War in Iraq.

“I’ll tell you my impression. We really in this last election, when I say we…the Democrats, I think pushed it as far as we can to the end of the fleet, didn’t say it, but we implied it. That if we won the Congressional elections, we could stop the war. Now anybody was a good student of Government would know that wasn’t true. But you know, the temptation to want to win back the Congress, we sort of stretched the facts…and people ate it up.”

And of course we have the famous memo from Rockefeller that lays out the plans to use the difficulties of war as a political weapon to undermine the White House and gain congressional seats:

Democrats Mull Politicizing Iraq War Intelligence

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Among other things, the memo recommends that Democrats “prepare to launch an investigation when it becomes clear we have exhausted the opportunity to usefully collaborate with the [Senate] majority. We can pull the trigger on an independent investigation of the administration’s use of intelligence at any time — but we can only do so once … the best time would probably be next year.”

The last paragraph of the memo reads, “Intelligence issues are clearly secondary to the public’s concern regarding the insurgency in Iraq.”

democrats basically sold out this country and stabbed our Soldiers in the back for political gain.

Watching liberal apologist like sullivan and greenwald continue to whine about Bush while Obama continues Rendition,indefinite detention,NSA spying,bombing and killing civilians,increasing troops,using state secrets,and keeping on many of the same people that instituted these policies shows just how corrupt democrats are and how ignorant the supporters of their hypocritical leadership are.

Baxter Greene on April 18, 2009 at 4:29 PM

Ryan Gandy on April 18, 2009 at 4:09 PM

Ryan, I hope you understand that I was implicitly acknowledging our general acceptance of such tragic “trade-offs.”

That very logic regarding civilian casualties could be applied to the individual captive: The military target (i.e., co-conspirators) can be reached only at risk to the “defenseless” terrorist or terrorist suspect – turned into the equivalent of a non-combatant by virtue of his being in captivity. I’m not trying to make a legal argument here, I’m just pointing out that the underlying moral position is hardly something monstrous or alien.

Because we so highly prize the individual and the presumption of innocence, we are rightly reluctant to adopt means and methods that violate them. The hypocrisy comes with the notion that, on the other side of defaming and perhaps prosecuting Bush officials up to and including Bush himself, we will somehow render ourselves morally pure.

CK MacLeod on April 18, 2009 at 5:08 PM

If this ( sleep deprivation, invasion by catepillar, etc) is what is considered torture and Obama says “Unlike the evil Bush administration I will never do that” -could someone explain to me what options remain for interrogating terrorists? Are we at the name,rank & serial number level?

katiejane on April 18, 2009 at 5:44 PM

katiejane, imagine a combination of DR PHIL and LIE TO ME, with gifts and games, over the course of many hours, days, weeks, and months. (Others would be able to explain it better, of course.) I wouldn’t dispute that more and better information can be acquired through such means than through physical and psychological discomfort and terror – most of the time. I think most of us understand what that leaves out.

CK MacLeod on April 18, 2009 at 6:15 PM

Kudos CK for clearing away the Cloud-Cuckoo-land version of “reality” where Obama and his minions float in amniotic idiocy, untouched by the gut and mind-wrenching suffering of 3,000 of their own neighborbors ~ brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and mothers and fathers~ who were slaughtered on 9/11.

The pacifist movement of the 1930’s guaranteed the opening successes of the Nazis and fascists and Japanese Imperialists.

Obama and Sullivan and Greenwald and millions of “COEXIST” fantasists across the nation are equally culpable for the next wave of Terror.

Maybe they need to look at the last minutes of Nick Berg’s life.

And Daniel Pearl’s.

And let that curdle their milk of human kindness sap.

Of which they are full to the brim with.

Obama is glibly undermining the security of the nation …which he apparently resents more than loves.

May he be the only one to reap the results of his catastrophic naivete from the jihadists he fecklessly dismisses.

And not the populace which he has so cavalierly endangered.

profitsbeard on April 18, 2009 at 7:45 PM

Obama has given the bad guys a primer on how to get through the American Satan’s evil interrogations.

coldwarrior on April 18, 2009 at 2:57 PM

Nope. The terrorists “man-caused disasters” men train to the Army Field Manual which will soon be revised to require us to just read them their al-Mirada rights.

Sergeant Tim on April 18, 2009 at 8:23 PM

What we are doing is not torture, you idiots.

apco on April 18, 2009 at 9:08 PM

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