As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Presser Thoughts

Watched Obama's presser. Man, he doesn't want to answer anything regarding what the Bush Administration committed regarding torture at all. He did eventually admit that waterboarding is torture, but Jake Tapper (decent job Jake) really had to pull it out of him. He said "Waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it's torture." He made a good series of statements of why we don't torture, invoking Churchill's treatment of German detainees during World War II, and without so many words, shot down Dick Cheney's insistence that cherry-picked documents prove the success of torture techniques, basically saying that he's seen nothing to disabuse him of the notion that torture makes us less safe. I think we'll eventually see those and other memos in the slow trickle of the fact pattern.

But the elocution was maddening. He admits waterboarding was torture, but answering a question of whether the Bush Administration's torture tactics violated international law, he called them a "mistake." As if it was an oversight, not necessary to prosecute.

Now, a President makes no decisions on whether or not to prosecute anyone, and he shouldn't prejudge any future cases by agreeing on what the Bush Administration did or didn't do. But these are key issues that are not getting answered, and a continued insistence that we look forward and not backward being pressed. He called torture a "shortcut," almost conceding the point that it works, but in totality said the country is made less safe. Clearly he's getting some information of some sort showing certain techniques being effective in some way, but it's all vague, and David Axelrod just followed up on Countdown by saying it's unclear which information came from which techniques. As you know, I think it's wrong to have this debate at all, and that such a debate debases us and violates our ideals and our values just as much. And we should stop talking about whether torture works, because in totality it doesn't, and start talking about why it has been prosecuted as torture for centuries. The cost-benefit analysis might be somehwat useful, but it doesn't make the needed argument about our essential debasement when we engage in such behavior.

And by the way, with no further actions on torture, we lose the argument with allies about our values and our commitment to the rule of law as much as we did by torturing in the first place. They'll go their own way.

Judge Baltasar Garzon will probe the "perpetrators, the instigators, the necessary collaborators and accomplices" to crimes of torture...

Garzon said that documents declassified by the US administration and carried by US media "have revealed what was previously a suspicion: the existence of an authorised and systematic programme of torture and mistreatment of persons deprived of their freedom" that flouts international conventions.

This points to "the possible existence of concerted actions by the US administration for the execution of a multitude of crimes of torture against persons deprived of their freedom in Guantanamo and other prisons including that of Bagram" in Afghanistan.

Michael Scherer of Time also put together a great question about the state secrets privilege, and got the President to state that the privilege is overly broad and ought to be narrowed. As for why Obama's lawyers in the Justice Department continue to use it, he claimed that they just got into office and had to come up with these briefs and haven't mastered the issue yet to the degree that they need to. I think that's a desperately bad answer. First of all, we're now talking three months. Second, shutting down lawsuits because you haven't had time to figure out the national security implications makes little sense, and the 9th Circuit Court agreed yesterday.

Overall, I think Obama is doing a great job with a bad hand, and has really moved the country forward in the first 100 days. On a few issues - Afghanistan, the banks, and this inability to break fully with the Bush Administration on the rule of law, or offer any accountability - we part ways. That's OK - it's my job to build a movement to push him in the right direction and criticize where necessary.

But what Obama has been missing has been an independent, obstreperous citizens' movement demanding fundamental reform. Roosevelt had the labor movement, the Townsend Clubs, Huey Long, socialists and communists challenging him from the left. Johnson had the civil rights movement forcing his hand.

This kind of opposition isn't easy. No president likes to face disruption, particularly from what he would consider his base. There are similar stories told about both Roosevelt and Johnson meeting with leaders of the movements and saying something to the effect of, "I agree with you, now go out there and make me do it." But in reality, Roosevelt wanted to squelch Long and tame labor. And Johnson repeatedly ordered Hubert Humphrey to bring the civil rights demonstrations to an end, saying that they weren't helping the cause. King got a lot of pressure —to say nothing of wiretaps and FBI investigations—to get back in step.

Yet it is precisely these movements—independent, disruptive, passionate, demanding bolder reform, taking on entrenched powerful interests—that enabled Roosevelt and Johnson to achieve far more than they ever thought possible. The New Deal we remember—Social Security, the Wagner Act, Fair Labor Standards, the SEC and Glass Stegall, progressive taxation—came not in the first 100 days, but as Roosevelt, under pressure from his left, geared up for re-election. The Voting Rights Act surely would not have been passed without Selma and many other sacrifices transforming public opinion to enable Johnson to act.

We have to be pests or we get what we deserve.

Labels: , , , , , , ,