Sunday, January 11, 2009

Not So Fast

The reality of what Obama's going to choose to do as President as far as cleaning up Bush's mess on torture from a legal standpoint is beginning to sink in, as Steve Benen points out.
Specifically, Obama explained, "When it comes to my attorney general he is the people's lawyer... His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not to be swayed by my day-to-day politics. So, ultimately, he's going to be making some calls, but my general belief is that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed looking at what we got wrong in the past."

On a related subject, Obama wasn't sure if he'd be able to close Guantanamo within his first 100 days, but made his position abundantly clear about what will happen to the notorious detention facility: "We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our constitution. That is not only the right thing to do but it actually has to be part of our broader national security strategy because we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values."

Obama also made clear his discomfort with the administration's interrogation policies: "Vice President Cheney I think continues to defend what he calls extraordinary measures or procedures when it comes to interrogations and from my view waterboarding is torture. I have said that under my administration we will not torture."

But when? The longer Gitmo remains open, the more Obama loses on being able to make a sea change, a clean break, with Bush's failed policies...and the more of a chance Bush has of getting away with it.

Don't be surprised if 100 days turns into 200, or 500, or never. We'll still be in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gitmo in 2012, and Obama will say we're of course moving forward.

[UPDATE] What Digby said.

But I would suggest that Obama contemplate one little thing before he decides to try to find "middle ground" on torture. It is a trap. If he continues to torture in any way or even tacitly agrees to allow it in certain circumstances, the intelligence community will make sure it is leaked. They want protection from both parties and there is no better way to do it than to implicate Obama. And the result of that will be to destroy his foreign policy.

If the man who represents the second chance this country's been given around the world to repudiate the horrors of the Bush years is revealed to have perpetuated the same horrors, his credibility and foreign policy will be in shambles. And there are many people buried in the intelligence and military establishments who would be happy to make sure that happens.
Damned if he does support Bush's policies, damned if he doesn't...and when he decides to walk down the middle of the road, that's when he gets hit by the bus.

The difference of course is if he makes a choice, one is clearly the right thing to do, and the other damns all of America as torturers and thugs.

[UPDATE 2] The Double G weighs in and lets Obama have it.

Let's emphasize what Obama is actually saying about why he can't close Guantanamo right away. Here is his answer when asked if he'd close Guantanamo in the first 100 days:

It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize and we are going to get it done but part of the challenge that you have is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom who may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication. And some of the evidence against them may be tainted even though it's true. And so how to balance creating a process that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo American legal system, by doing it in a way that doesn't result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up.

What he's saying is quite clear. There are detainees who the U.S. may not be able to convict in a court of law. Why not? Because the evidence that we believe establishes their guilt was obtained by torture, and it is therefore likely inadmissible in our courts (torture-obtained evidence is inadmissible in all courts in the civilized world; one might say it's a defining attribute of being civilized). But Obama wants to detain them anyway -- even though we can't convict them of anything in our courts of law. So before he can close Guantanamo, he wants a new, special court to be created -- presumably by an act of Congress -- where evidence obtained by torture (confessions and the like) can be used to justify someone's detention and where, presumably, other safeguards are abolished. That's what he means when he refers to "creating a process."

Amazingly, when discussing the same topic, Obama vowed that "we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values." How? By creating a new court just for accused Islamic radicals that allows us to use confessions and other evidence that we obtained through torture? That sounds like exactly the same "message about our values" that we've been sending.

Obama has to make a choice here...either we don't torture people or we do. All the rationalization in the world doesn't change that basic, black and white choice. Either we torture Muslims or we don't.

That single choice will either bring America back from the brink, or push us over into the dustbin of broken Empire.

Who Benefits?

Much sound and fury is being made of the NY Times article this weekend involving a story about Bush turning down an Israeli request for bunker buster bombs for a raid against Iran several months ago.
President Bush deflected a secret request by Israel last year for specialized bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear complex and told the Israelis that he had authorized new covert action intended to sabotage Iran’s suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons, according to senior American and foreign officials.

White House officials never conclusively determined whether Israel had decided to go ahead with the strike before the United States protested, or whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel was trying to goad the White House into more decisive action before Mr. Bush left office. But the Bush administration was particularly alarmed by an Israeli request to fly over Iraq to reach Iran’s major nuclear complex at Natanz, where the country’s only known uranium enrichment plant is located.

The White House denied that request outright, American officials said, and the Israelis backed off their plans, at least temporarily. But the tense exchanges also prompted the White House to step up intelligence-sharing with Israel and brief Israeli officials on new American efforts to subtly sabotage Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, a major covert program that Mr. Bush is about to hand off to President-elect Barack Obama.

This account of the expanded American covert program and the Bush administration’s efforts to dissuade Israel from an aerial attack on Iran emerged in interviews over the past 15 months with current and former American officials, outside experts, international nuclear inspectors and European and Israeli officials. None would speak on the record because of the great secrecy surrounding the intelligence developed on Iran.

Several details of the covert effort have been omitted from this account, at the request of senior United States intelligence and administration officials, to avoid harming continuing operations.
So who exactly benefits from the leak? Not Bush, that's for sure. His reputation as a belligerent warmonger has been cemented in time over the last seven years, beyond rehabilitation with 10 days left in his term.

Most likely the Bushies are sending across the bow of Iran. The one thing Bush was adamant about in 2008 was not allowing Israel to use Iraqi airspace. With Iraq being under UN mandate, not even Bush would risk that.

But that mandate expired on Dec. 31, 2008. It's not like Iraq has an air force or anything. This is pretty much a warning to Iran.

The question is now what Obama will do about Israel.
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