CIA Torture Memos, Released: What’s Next?

CIA Torture Memos, Released: What’s Next?

(A version of this article was published in Blogcritics on April, 2009)

CIA Torture Memos, Released: What’s Next?

 

I

The recent controversy surrounding the release of the CIA “torture memos” has become the number one issue on the American political scene. In my opinion, it tops the much-debated stimulus package, Mr. Obama’s controversial “good will” tour, or even the recent furor over the authenticity and the true meaning of the “tea-parties.” And understandably so, for there’s been plenty of gear–shifting and changing of minds since these memos were released.

Indeed, the initial assurances that there’ll be no indictments – least of all, of the underlings – have given way to the possibility that some of the lawyers and the ex-president’s legal advisors might bear the blame, not to mention Mr. Bush himself and his closest staff. And this seems to fly in the face of Mr. Obama’s assurances that he wouldn’t engage in divisive politics but look instead to the future.  

Such a course of action wouldn’t bode well for Mr. Obama. The incoming president — so goes the argument — ought to be nothing but desirous of securing as much goodwill and public support as he possibly can, especially in light of the economic crisis and other urgent matters facing us. In short, he’d be only shooting himself in the foot by this sudden reversal or at least by entertaining the possibility of future prosecution.

II

In essence, that’s the gist of The Wall Street Journal editorial piece, “Presidential Poison,” April 23, online edition. 

The editors argue that there is nothing to be gained from pursuing this matter further. And among the reasons they cite are such eventualities and facts as 

  • possible damage to the CIA morale at the time when we need it the most;
  • the fact that some members of both Houses have already approved of the questionable interrogative techniques, the Madame Speaker included;
  • the possibility that Mr. Obama would only be squandering his immense popularity and political capital, which thus far surpass his unpopular policies, were he to engage in any course of action that would even smack of retaliation for sins past. 

Indeed, they go as far as to say that doing that would put us on the level of such “lawless” countries as Argentina, Malaysia, or Peru, “where law is treated merely as an extension of political power.” And as a measure of common sense and what they deem as reasonable policy, they suggest that Mr. Obama should rest content with the recent policy changes at Guantanamo and other interrogation facilities and leave it at that.

Why dig into the past and risk the spirit of bipartisanship, the editors ask.

III

I don’t know about you, but I’ve become particularly sensitized of late to signs and symbols which usually foretell whether something is a political tract or not. And the typical ploy is to make you believe that the author’s intentions are none other than to communicate her concern for the party in power and “for the good of the whole,” whereas nothing could be further from the truth!

Well, the opinion piece in question comes very close. And the surprising thing is, it adorns the front page of the WSJ — a respectable publication by any means, albeit on the conservative side. Have they all come to believe that the American public can no longer tell truth from fiction or discern the difference between objective analysis and propaganda?

IV

Far more disturbing because it’s not anonymous is the April 22 op-ed by Dorothy Rabinowitz — a respected member of the journal’s editorial board since May 1996 and a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist to boot. And although Ms. Rabinowitz couches the general debate concerning Mr. Obama’s perceived inadequacies in a larger context – to include her somewhat dim view of Mr. Obama’s recent diplomatic trip – the very same message as regards the intention to look into the possibility of potential abuses or violations of the law in our treatment of the detainees rings loud and clear. 

“Let it alone or suffer the consequences,” is her advice. 

V

To her discredit, Ms. Rabinowitz faults Mr. Obama for having doubts regarding Pres. Truman’s decision to drop bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And she rounds her discussion by saying that this admission of possible guilt – “Obama Blames America” is the article’s title – is only going to haunt him. The average American will not take kindly to this kind of talk, she reassures us. 

Once again, the impression lingers that Ms. Rabinowitz’s piece is just another political tract. The intent seems to be that the predominant concern is to keep the present administration within the straight and narrow, whereas the true motive is nothing of the kind. In short, it’s to discredit it.

VI

But never mind that! Ms. Rabinowitz’s overall intent to couch the discussion of our treatment of detainees within a larger framework – to include the events of 1945 – appears no other than to pile up on the president’s list of sins. To wit, if Mr. Obama is liable to make a major mistake as regards the latter, then no other kind of decision or pronouncement emanating from the White House is apt to be credible as well (including the issue at hand). And that since he’s wrong on this one count, he’s liable to be wrong across the board.

What’s pathetic about this whole thing is that a person of Ms. Rabinowitz’s stature would stoop so low as to resort to this kind of underhanded argument. But I guess it only tells of the level to which our political discussion had deteriorated these days. Even the brightest lights, so it’d seem, are more intent on spewing out propaganda and political bias than getting at the truth.

VII

In response, I have only one thing to say: disclosure is always good. If it weren’t for the in-your-face kind of investigative reporting by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, we would have never learned of the Watergate. And the same goes for Bill Clinton’s sex scandal or the abuses at Abu Ghraib – any real or apparent violation that, for lack of publicity and the ensuing public outrage, would have gone by unnoticed. 

Who cares what the lawyers say, appealing as they might to our sense of justice and due process. There’s just too much disinformation about this scandal, too much that is still unknown, not to warrant an independent investigation. And that’s especially true in light of the Bush’s administration questionable practices in virtually every area of public trust, from the EPA law enforcement to all manner of possible abuses of the executive privilege. Enough said!

VIII

Perhaps the best way to close this argument is to point to the value of transparency in government. And here, I can do no better than to refer you to JFK’s speech on secret societies and the freedom of the press. Have we all but forgotten?

Instead, we hear of witch hunts and fishing expeditions and all manner of calls and appellations to keep this thing under wraps. 

But why? And what purpose would it serve other than protecting the potential violators – the likes of Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and Mr. Rumsfeld?

To which I say, let the truth come out!

IX

The naysayers argue that the office of Special Prosecutor has never been used to investigate past administrations and that to do so would set a dangerous precedent. My response is that perhaps it’s high time to extend its powers to accord with the statute of limitations. 

Why should a public official, past or present, enjoy greater immunity than the average citizen?

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