Articles

Obama Repackages Bush Program of Torture, War

 By Larry Jones

 In President Barack Obama’s eloquent speech on national security on May 21, he stated that “… I took several steps upon taking office to better protect the American people. First I banned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation…” He was, of course, talking about torture.
 
One problem with this statement. It is NOT TRUE. As Jeremy Scahill noted in his article of May 15: “ The ‘Black Shirts’ of Guantanamo routinely terrorize prisoners, breaking bones, gouging eyes, squeezing testicles, and ‘dousing’ them with chemicals.” These goon squads, known as the Immediate Reaction Force (IRD), were begun under George W. Bush, and they continue today purportedly to extract uncooperative inmates from their cells. In reality they are used as a means of punishment for anyone who is even perceived as not following orders to the letter. Such alleged misconduct is virtually impossible to avoid.
 
According to Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, "They are the Black Shirts of Guantánamo. IRFs can't be separated from torture. They are a part of the brutalization of humans treated as less than human.” Yet Obama does not mention this in his speech and makes it sound like he will actually eliminate the use of torture.
In an April 29 interview by Mark Knoller of CBS News, Obama said: “I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe. But I am absolutely convinced that the best way I can do that is to make sure that we are not taking short cuts that undermine who we are. And there have been no circumstances during the course of this first 100 days in which I have seen information that would make me second guess the decision that I have made.” He did not say that there would never be circumstances that would change his mind.
 
OBAMA’S REPACKAGING
 
Critics such as the conservative David Brooks have said that what Obama has done is to cleverly repackaged Bush’s national security program. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Brooks wrote: “The inauguration of Barack Obama has simply not marked a dramatic shift in the substance of American anti-terror policy. It has marked a shift in the public credibility of that policy.” Yes, Obama is a more skillful orator than the bumbling Bush, and many people miss the problems embedded in what he says. 
 
Jack Goldsmith was Deputy Attorney General under Bush and was often at odds with him on the legality of his interrogation program. Now with the right wing magazine “The New Republic”, Goldsmith recently wrote an article subtitled “Why Obama is waging a more effective war on terror than George W. Bush”. In it, he argued that  “The main difference between the Obama and Bush administrations concerns not the substance of terrorism policy, but rather its packaging.” On May 22 in the same magazine he wrote that the “premise that the Obama administration has reversed Bush-era policies is largely wrong. The truth is closer to the opposite: The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric.”
 
Goldsmith has also sorted out some of the reality behind Obama’s stated policies. For example, Obama has stated that he will restore Habeas Corpus to those held prisoner by the U.S, while at the same time establishing a policy that completely denies it to the prisoners held at Abu Ghraib, and has limititations to the point of non-existence for Guantanamo prisoners.
Obama ordered a 120 day suspension of military commissions and many thought that was the beginning of their end. But now Obama has called for their continuation with a few changes. Goldsmith says the “new commissions rules have not been published but they will apparently disallow evidence obtained from coercion, admit hearsay only if it is reliable, and give detainees more freedom to choose their attorneys. These are not large changes from the Bush rules as they stood in 2008.” 
 
Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, stated on Democracy Now that the Center had opposed Obama’s trying to make military commissions more palatable. “You know, putting a few due process protections on an old George Bush policy is like rehabbing a house on a toxic waste site. You know, it really didn’t make a whole lot of difference. And you can’t make the military commissions better.”
 
One shocker in Obama’s speech goes beyond Bush and authorizes preventive detention. Obama said that in some cases the United States “must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war.” Warren says that such a policy is “the idea of detaining people not because they’ve committed a crime, but because of their general dangerousness or that they may commit a crime in the future.” The original Constitution and the original Bill of rights were right there in the National Archives where the president spoke, and neither of them allows what Obama was proposing.
Under the Obama administration rendition will still take place. That is the practice of picking up or kidnapping people suspected of having inside information about or links to “terrorists” and sending them to other countries for interrogation. Section 2(g) of Obama’s January 22 executive order allows the CIA to continue detaining and interrogating suspects as long as they are not held for long periods of time. "Obviously you need to preserve some tools – you still have to go after the bad guys," an administration official told the Los Angeles Times. The administration has chosen to use the Clinton era standard regarding rendition sites which prohibited rendition only when U.S. authoritities determine that it is "more likely than not"--that is, a greater than 50 percent chance--"that the suspect will be subjected to torture."
 
In spite of these non-changes on the one hand, Obama has, on the other hand, issued an executive order that requires the CIA to use techniques used under the Army Field Manual, a departure from the “harsh techniques” used under the Bush regime. It is this order, even with its loopholes large enough to drive a Sherman tank through, that so disturbs Dick Cheney who claims that harsh torture (he won’t use that term) actually “works” and has provided information that “saved American lives”. Accepting the terms that either Cheney or Obama use – that somehow the lives of people in this country are more valuable than the lives of people in other countries – leads, in one form or another to accepting the programs of war and its inevitable accompaniment of torture, whatever one’s intentions. The entire framework must be rejected.
 
Leon Panetta, the Director of the CIA, is on record favoring the use of “harsh techniques” in “some circumstances”. At his Senate hearing for confirmation, according to the New York Times, “Panetta said that in extreme cases, if interrogators were unable to extract critical information from a terrorism suspect, he would seek White House approval for the C.I.A. to use methods that would go beyond those permitted under the new rules.” 
 
This site has repeatedly called for people to demand that Obama release some 2000 torture photos from the Bush days so that everyone in the nation can understand why those in the Bush regime who justified or carried out such heinous crimes should be prosecuted, tried, and jailed. Originally the president said he would release them, but he has changed his mind. Under great pressure from high ranking military leaders, he justifies this lack of transparency according to the wishes of those for whom is he supposed to be the Commander In Chief.
 
In addition he has repeatedly said he won’t prosecute the criminals in the Bush regime. He wants to shove all that horror under the rug and move on.
 
The war criminals must be hounded wherever they go and prosecuted as any criminal would be. And the Nurenberg defense that “I was only following orders,” must not be allowed.