Nudging Obama

Formerly "Obama Watch" Keeping the promise of change

Obama’s Mixed Message on Torture Policy

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Obama’s Mixed Message on Torture Policy

by Andy Worthington

At a press conference to mark his first 100 days in office, President Obama declared, “We have rejected the false choice between our security and our ideals by closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and banning torture without exception.” I have looked at the President’s misleading statement about Guantánamo, and analyzed his progress – or lack of it – in closing the prison in a previous article, and in this second article I’m going to focus on his assertion that the new administration has been responsible for “banning torture without exception.”

On the surface, Obama appears to have been true to his word. In two Executive Orders issued on his second day in office (along with an order relating to the closure of Guantánamo), he established that the questioning of prisoners by any US government agency (including the CIA) must follow the interrogation guidelines laid down in the Army Field Manual, which guarantees humane treatment under the Geneva Conventions, and also required the CIA to close any still-existing secret prisons.

This order also established a Special Interagency Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies, to evaluate “whether the interrogation practices and techniques in the Army Field Manual, when employed by departments or agencies outside the military, provide an appropriate means of acquiring the intelligence necessary to protect the Nation, and, if warranted, to recommend any additional or different guidelines for other departments or agencies.” This task force was also charged with evaluating “the practices of transferring individuals to other nations,” to ensure that they do not face torture….

I understand that President Obama doesn’t want to rock the boat, endangering a fragile peace with the Republican party, in order to secure as much consensus as possible when so many other major policy decisions need to be made (and, perhaps, members of his own party need to be shielded from revelations of their knowledge of the grisly details of the “War on Terror”). However, as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just demonstrated so admirably, by setting new rules for appropriate conduct while holding at bay any accountability for the Bush administration’s crimes, he is not only shielding those who are no longer in office from full disclosure of their activities – from the embarrassing to the depraved – but is also allowing himself to be infected by the same disdain for the separation of powers, and the same endorsement of unfettered Executive power, that was the Bush administration’s most toxic legacy for the values on which the republic was founded.

I’m still erring on the side of presuming that this is more to do with pragmatism than it is with deliberate, coldly conceived policy, but, like Judge John D. Bates and the judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, I’m beginning to run out of patience.

Andy Worthington is a journalist and historian, based in London. He is the author of The Guantánamo Files, the first book to tell the stories of all the detainees in America’s illegal prison. For more information, visit his blog here.

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Written by bearmarketnews

May 7, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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