When presidential sermons collide

Obama tells the Indonesians that looking backward to their past abuses is a prerequisite for moving forward

Topics: Barack Obama, Washington, D.C.,

When presidential sermons collide

(updated below – Update II – Update III)

President Obama gave an interview earlier this week to an Indonesian television station in lieu of the scheduled trip to that country which was canceled due to the health care vote.  In 2008, Indonesia empowered a national commission to investigate human rights abuses committed by its own government under the U.S.-backed Suharto regime “in an attempt to finally bring the perpetrators to justice,” and Obama was asked in this interview:  ”Is your administration satisfied with the resolution of the past human rights abuses in Indonesia?”  He replied:

We have to acknowledge that those past human rights abuses existed.  We can’t go forward without looking backwards . . . .

When asked last year about whether the United States should use similar tribunals to investigate its own human rights abuses, as well his view of other countries’ efforts (such as Spain) to investigate those abuses, Obama said:

I’m a strong believer that it’s important to look forward and not backwards, and to remind ourselves that we do have very real security threats out there.

That “Look-Forward/Not-Backward” formulation is one which Obama and his top aides have frequently repeated to argue against any investigations in the U.S.  Why, as Obama sermonized, must Indonesians first look backward before being able to move forward, whereas exactly the opposite is true of Americans?  If a leader is going to demand that other countries adhere to the very “principles” which he insists on violating himself, it’s probably best not to use antithetical clichés when issuing decrees, for the sake of appearances if nothing else.

You Might Also Like

The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer — in the last paragraph of her new article documenting the multiple lies told by former Bush speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen in his pro-torture book — offered the best summary yet as to why Obama’s “Look Forward/Not Backward” mentality is so destructive:

The publication of “Courting Disaster” suggests that Obama’s avowed determination “to look forward, not back” has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation.  By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.

Nothing enables the glorification of crimes, and nothing ensures their future re-occurrence, more than shielding the criminals from all accountability.  It’s nice that Barack Obama is willing to dispense that lecture to other countries, but it’s not so nice that he does exactly the opposite in his own.

 

UPDATE:  The Mayer article on Thiessen’s book has been discussed in various places over the last several days, though I hadn’t read it until day.  It’s quite amazing:  she does not merely “debunk” Thiessen’s central claims, but proves that they’re outright lies and that he is a fabulist on the level of Jayson Blair.  It speaks volumes about The Washington Post that they hired him as a regular columnist after the publication of that book.

On a more positive note:  the superb journalist Jeremy Scahill was named the recipient of the 2nd Annual Izzy Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism.  Information about his award is here.

 

UPDATE II:  On an unrelated note, I’ve done several interviews on Canadian TV and radio over the past few days about this piece I wrote on Canada’s creepy censorship laws.  Ann Coulter, who is now mostly ignored in the U.S., has received more attention over the past few days than she’s received in years as a result of this incident, which underscores a key point:  beyond their inherent dangers, censorship laws almost always backfire by converting their targets into martyrs.  For those interested, here is a TV interview I did last night in Canada; my segment begins at 7:45.  But the interview before me — with one of the students from the University of Ottawa who protested Coulter’s appearance — is worth watching for a bit just to get a flavor for the childish mentality that underlies the desire to have the Government dictate what political views can and cannot be heard:  even at universities, which, of all places, should be devoted to the free inquiry into all ideas.

 

UPDATE III:  The aforementioned Jeremy Scahill gave an interview today about what “independent journalism” means.  The whole interview is worth reading and reflects why he’s such a deserving recipient of that award.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>