Obama, the ICRC Report and ongoing suppression

It is impossible for Obama to end the dark Bush/Cheney era if he is the prime agent preventing disclosure and accountability.


Glenn Greenwald
April 7, 2009 3:41PM (UTC)

(updated below)

Following up on the latest extremist Cheney/Addington/Yoo arguments advanced by the Obama DOJ in order to shield Bush lawbreaking from disclosure and judicial review -- an episode I wrote about in detail yesterday, here -- it's worthwhile to underscore the implications of Barack Obama's conduct.  When Obama sought to placate his angry supporters after he voted for the Bush/Cheney FISA-telecom immunity bill last June (after vowing the prior December to support a filibuster of any such legislation), this is what he said (h/t notavailable):

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[The FISA bill] also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.

So candidate Obama unambiguously vowed to his supporters that he would work to ensure "full accountability" for "past offenses" in surveillance lawbreaking.  President Obama, however, has now become the prime impediment to precisely that accountability, repeatedly engaging in extraordinary legal maneuvers to ensure that "past offenses" -- both in the surveillance and torture/rendition realm -- remain secret and forever immunized from judicial review.  Put another way, Obama has repeatedly done the exact opposite of what he vowed he would do:  rather than "seek full accountability for past offenses," he has been working feverishly to block such accountability, by embracing the same radical Bush/Cheney views and rhetoric regarding presidential secrecy powers that caused so much controversy and anger for the last several years. 

And note the pure deceit on the part of Senate Democrats who justified telecom immunity by continuously assuring the public that the Bush officials who ordered the illegal surveillance (as opposed to the telecoms who broke the law by enabling it) would still be subject to legal accountability even once the Congress immunized telecoms.  It was obvious at the time (as was often pointed out) that they were outright lying when they said this -- because all sorts of legal instruments had been invoked by the Bush DOJ (such as "state secrets" and "standing" arguments) to protect those government officials from that accountability (legal instruments Democrats knowingly left in place).  And now it is Barack Obama, by employing those very same instruments, who is leading the way in making a mockery of the assurances given by Senate Democrats -- don't worry that we immunized the phone companies because Bush officials, who were the truly guilty parties in the illegal spying, will still be subject to legal accountability.

On a very related note:  last night, The New York Review of Books published the full report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (.pdf), which documented in detail the brutal torture to which the 14 "high-value" detainees whom we disappeared into our CIA "black sites" were subjected and demanded "that the US authorities investigate all allegations of ill-treatment and take steps to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate."  As Scott Horton notes, the ICRC does not call for investigations and prosecutions easily, but rather, "only where the evidence of criminal conduct is manifest."   Yet Obama's handpicked CIA Director, Leon Panetta, continues to demand that there be no investigations of any kind, let alone prosecutions.  As a CIA spokesperson told the New York Times yesterday in response to the ICRC report:  

Mr. Panetta "has stated repeatedly that no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished."  The C.I.A.'s interrogation methods were declared legal by the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

[It should be noted, however, that many of the torture techniques authorized by the White House Principals Group -- chaired by Condoleezza Rice -- were explicitly declared legal by the DOJ only after they were authorized; at the time, "the Principals also approved interrogations that combined different methods, pushing the limits of international law and even the Justice Department's own legal approval in the 2002 memo"].

Accompanying the ICRC report was an article by Mark Danner, the superb journalist who obtained the ICRC Report and disclosed it.  In his article, Danner describes the grave dangers from preserving ongoing secrecy surrounding Bush/Cheney crimes (h/t bystander; emphasis added):

Barack Obama may well assert that "the facts don't bear [Cheney] out," but as long as the "details of it" cannot be revealed "without violating classification," as long as secrecy can be wielded as the dark and potent weapon it remains, Cheney's politics of torture will remain a powerful if half-submerged counter-story, waiting for the next attack to spark it into vibrant life.

As Danner suggests, it is simply impossible for Obama to "turn the page" on (let alone reverse) the dark Bush/Cheney era of profound crimes while he simultaneously turns himself into the prime agent suppressing the facts surrounding those crimes and vigorously shielding the criminals from all investigation and accountability.

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UPDATE:  I could literally spend all day highlighting passages from the ICRC Report that will turn the stomach of any minimally decent human being.  Those morally depraved individuals who continue to mock and dismiss the notion that the U.S. Government, at the highest level, ordered the most brutal and inhumane torture should be compelled to read the Report in its entirety (and the Report is confined to 14 individual "black site" prisoners; it says nothing about what was done to the tens of thousands of other detainees at Guantanamo, Bagram, in Iraq and elsewhere -- many of whom died in our custody). 

Andrew Sullivan highlights but one of the key passages from Mark Danner's article demonstrating the similarities between standard Soviet torture techniques and the ones the U.S. used repeatedly on our detainees.  Note how warped our political culture is:  Sen. Dick Durbin was forced to tearfully apologize on the Senate floor for accurately comparing our treatment of detainees at Guantanamo to the techniques used in Soviet gulags and by Gestapo interrogation squads, but those who perpetrated these war crimes have apologized for nothing, remain welcome in decent company, and are still shielded by our Government from all accountability.


Glenn Greenwald

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