The President of the United States still shows no signs of seeking justice against war criminals
The President of the United States, by way of giving the world a Friday heading into the weekend presser in hopes that we’ll miss it and just ignore it to death, finally leveled exactly the kind of allegations we’ve been waiting for for six years now. Then he clarified his position by saying that we shouldn’t be sanctimonious, but let’s see it in his own stammering words:
I understand why it happened. Uh, I, I think, ah, ih-, it’s important, uh, when we look back to recall how afraid people were, uh, after, uh, the tow-, twin towers, uh, fell, and, and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know, ah, whether more attacks were imminent, uh, and there was enormous pressure, uh, on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this, uh, and um, hyuh, i-, i-, i-, it’s important for us not to, uh, feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those have and a lot of those folks, uh, wuh, uh, were s-, s-, working hard, ah, under enormous pressure, and are real patriots but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that repor-port reflects, and that’s the reason why, after, uh, I took office one of the first things I did was to ban, uh, some of the, in-, extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.
Ordinarily, when I hear comments on the president along the lines of him being “unpresidential,” I scoff. These usually come from the same wits that have trouble with him putting his feet up on the same desk George W. Bush put his feet on, as well as presidents before him. But to watch this presser is just painful. A president often noted for his lofty rhetoric was utterly lacking in it today. A president that usually boldly faces the cameras could hardly keep his eyes to the folks this side of the podium. And the stammering, oh, God, the stammering. Yes, this is weighty material, and it is long overdue, and, by his own admission, this is the reason why one of the first things he did on taking office was to ban some of the “extraordinary interrogation techniques,” and for being that familiar with it, couldn’t bring himself to address the nation boldly, at a time when we’d be paying attention, in a manner befitting the President of the United States.
And why should I be surprised? To read those words, to watch that video is, I should hope, to be aghast. Torture was wrong, but it was understandable, you see. People were afraid, you see, after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon was hit, and Flight 93, which couldn’t be addressed in anything but the most generic of terms as that “plane in Pennsylvania” which “had fallen.” Fear makes torture, well, not okay, per se, but we’d be sanctimonious to seek justice for it. Because people were afraid. For crying out loud!
Were the people fearful? I don’t know about you, but I was in DC the day it happened. That morning, the commute on the red line was as normal and dull as any I’d ever had, until I got to Union Station and the platform was a frenzy of confused people being ushered out at a brisk pace while a commanding voice over the station intercom instructed everyone, without reason, to evacuate the building immediately. This was alarming. Making my way from the dim light to the bright morning light outside only to be greeted with jersey barriers that hadn’t been there just yesterday and troops on the ground bearing arms, and people milling about like lost ants, this was alarming. Going into, against the flow of people rushing out, the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building and flashing my ID to a confused guard was just odd. Arriving at the office I worked in only to be met with a quizzical, “what are you doing here?” was puzzling. I had no idea. So I watched it on the television. And again. And again.
I felt concern. My significant other was a few miles away in class. How would she get home? I called her family. “Don’t worry. We’re on it. You get home safely.” A long walk to the Rhode Island station later, and I was back on a running train and home again, to watch the news. Again. And again. And again. I felt stunned.
For days following, what brought tears to my eyes were the heartfelt expressions of sympathy and support shared with America from people around the world, even from places we had come to think of as “the enemy,” as though places are enemies, and not the people, scratch that, some of the people in that place. We were never to think of the enemy as only some of the people in those places. And here were the other some, expressing their pain and sadness for and with us.
I didn’t feel fear. I felt awake. I started paying attention. Were other people afraid? I’m sure some were. But we were enjoined by the people in power to remain calm, and by all means, do not stop consuming! If you stop spending, the terrorists have won!
At the same time, whatever the people felt, like anyone in power has ever given half a shit about the people, we expect the people who run the show, both behind and in front of the curtain, to be a great many things by turns, but not fearful. The people who ordered torture, the people who justified torture, the people who passed the order to torture down the chain of command, all the way down to the lowly schmucks who fail to understand the obligation to uphold the Constitution and obey only lawful orders, every last swingin’ dick of them needs to be identified and charged for juries to decide the matter once and for all. That. Is. Justice.
And that is one of the things that most galls me in this stammering, sputtering horrorshow of a presidential speech. Not only was torture understandable because people were afraid, he completely and totally derails all notions of direct accountability. Law enforcement, you see, and our “national security teams,” they were working hard, they were under enormous pressure. I don’t remember being terribly concerned about those nameless, faceless hard-working and enormously pressured LEO’s and “national security teams” (what, no mention of the heroic first responders on whom we’ve long since turned our backs?) when the drums started beating immediately for war. I remember being most assuredly concerned by President Bush, by name, by Vice President Dick Cheney, by name, by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, by name, by Secretary of State Colin Powell, by name, and by the army of political hacks and flaks from The Washington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC, and so on, and so on, beating, beating, beating the drums for a war against a nation that didn’t directly attack us, and then another, and no mention being made of any plans to send an assault team of any size or specialization against Saudi Arabia, home of 15 of the 19 terrorists who killed over 3,000 people on our soil in broad daylight for the all the world to see, exactly as intelligence had indicated would be attempted.
I remember feeling gall. I remember feeling righteous anger. I remember feeling betrayed by the government. And I remember feeling betrayed by a national media juggernaut that was hellbent on calling anyone who dared question the official script “un-American.”
And here we are. Now I’m sanctimonious. I don’t think I have ever been as dismayed at an American president as I am right now. The raw, rank disrespect I feel and continue to feel for Bush and Cheney pale by comparison.
Worse, I’m choking on some really bitter fucking irony right now. The House, under GOP leadership, has now authorized Speaker of the House John Boehner, he of passing political contributions out on the House floor fame, much to his permanent shame, if he had any at all, which he clearly doesn’t, to sue President Obama for, in part, and get this, it’s a laugh riot, failing to enforce the law, to wit, the ACA, which they have tried to repeal repeatedly at millions of dollars of taxpayer expense.
So I have a challenge for you, GOP and Speaker Boehner. By all means, sue the president. He has it coming. Hell, introduce articles of impeachment. You’ve got him dead to rights on the Bergdahl transfer without the 30-day Congressional notification required by law. Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein has said as much. And I will cheer you on every step of the way. With one little, teeny, weeny, itsy, bitsy, catch. Force the President to enforce the law against torture. Demand an independent investigation, predicated on the Senate report about which the President spoke today, and predicated on the president’s own grave allegation of torture, notwithstanding his absolute spinelessness and the sheer unmitigated gall of calling true, patriotic, justice-loving Americans sanctimonious. Force him to enforce the law so we can finally bring the gang of war criminals from the Bush administration to justice, once and for all.
Forget the wild dog-whistling hoots and hollers from the right deriding the president at every turn for ever tiny slight, real or imagined, as well as some doozies. The left needs to rise up in the face of today’s national embarrassment and demand justice. And while we’re at it, we’d do well to demand that justice by contacting our Congresscomplicitycritters. They have known of this, and not one, not Warren, not Sanders, not Feinstein, not Pelosi, not Udall, not Franken, not Wasserman-Schultz, have, to my knowledge, put pressure on President Obama to enforce the law against torture. Not a single fucking one. Even our best, even our last shreds of hope in Congress, have been complicit in our national shame. To the extent that we let them remain silent, we share in that shame.
We either fix this, or truth, justice, and the American way are gone. Dead. Dust. Forever ridden off into the sunset with Roy and Dale and Tonto and the Lone Ranger, just three more myths to tell our kids about from back in the good old days that never were.