I’m a believer in the idea that if a political leader angers people on both sides of the issue, he may well have found a reasonable place in the middle.
Barack Obama, who has been tacking hard to the left since January 20th, has thoroughly enraged both the RIght and the Left with his release of four memos detailing CIA methods of extracting information, while concordantly announcing that CIA interrogators who followed these guidelines would not be subject to prosecution.
According to the right wing of the Republican Party, the release of these documents instantly turns the members of al-Qaeda into supermen who will be able to resist all future interrogation techniques. If the United States has not been destroyed by the end of the week, it will only be by sheer, dumb luck.
Meanwhile, the MoveOn.org branch of the Democratic Party believes this is equivalent to providing blanket pardons to Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels.
Personally, I expect reality can be found somewhere between the two.
I find the fact that we’re even discussing the legality of such techniques to be amazing. Over two hundred years ago, the framers of the Constitution of the United States struggled with the morality of using “cruel and unusual punishment” on convicted criminals, and decided to prohibit it.
Today, a sizable portion of the United States population finds it acceptable for people who have never even seen the inside of a courtroom, much less been convicted, to be taken, restrained, and to have water poured on their face until they drown.
Make no mistake, this is not ‘simulated drowning’ as so many have referred to it. It is actual drowning. The process is just (hopefully) stopped before death occurs.
How this could possibly be considered anything but torture is beyond me. Once again I’m reminded that a civilization can both progress and regress.
The situation is even worse when you consider the efficacy of torture as an method of gaining information. It is considered by most an unpredictable method in the best of circumstances. And to attain those best of circumstances, a great deal of time is needed.
So much for the 24-style, ticking time bomb scenario. By the time you succeed in getting information (if you succeed), the threat has already either been prevented or come to pass.
Dick Cheney has yet again shown his Machiavellian brilliance. In an interview with Fox News Monday night, he claimed that it was “disturbing” that the Obama Administration had released some documents “but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort”.
Let’s imagine for a moment that such memos and successes do not exist. The Obama Administration will say so publicly, but be derided by the Right as covering up the truth.
Absolutely, and terrifyingly, brilliant.
As for the CIA interrogators, I don’t think I would have taken prosecution off the table the way Obama did. However, one can argue that the interrogators had reasonable beliefs that their actions were legal. While I’d like to think that Federal employees are capable of making proper moral judgments on their own, that is probably not a reasonable belief.
Obama has very clearly left open the potential for there to be be prosecutions of those that went beyond the White House guidelines of interrogation. I expect we’ll see some of these.
He has also explicitly stated that we may see some prosecutions of Bush Administration personnel who supported and approved the interrogation program. I don’t expect us to actually see any of these, however.
The coming months will tell us more about this situation and will reveal a great deal about Barack Obama’s beliefs. I, for one, am happy to see him at least acting like the centrist he pretended to be during the campaign.