no, Obama!

UPDATE  04.21.09   Clearly President Obama read my blog.  Hopefully after I edited out all of the incorrect possessive apostrophes.

not my hero today, President Obama.

not my hero today, President Obama.

During the primaries, I was a sworn Hillary Clinton fan.  She remains a loyal yet appropriately dissenting patriot who often speaks strongly about the responsibilities of the USA in foreign affairs.  (Though in this particular instance, I think USA drug policies suck in a very different way than she does). However, I feel honoured to be politically aware during the first American presidency of a black man; Obama certainly moves me when he speaks, I feel he could be a catalyst for progressive change, and no, I don’t hope he fails.

But today I must lament “No, Obama!” because of this.  

As the first line of my newly started overdue paper for Philosophy of War and Peace says, President Obama’s decision to forgo the prosecution of CIA agents who committed acts of torture because they were acting on the counsel of the Department of Justice and following orders poses a distinct ideology of utility, identity, and action as pertains to sanctioned, violent representatives of the government of the United States.  And this ideology is not one I am a fan of (note: this sentence  is not from my paper). 

This paper is about rules of engagement and a soldier’s responsibility  to peace and pacifism.  This is a very different approach to that of the philosophers who I am responding to that mostly discuss a soldier’s responsibility to their government. And while dogmatic obedience is certainly ingrained into trained forces, the reality is that their actions are the actions of an individual and moreover, these actions are acts of violence and therefore carry a certain responsibility.  And in the case of the CIA agents, these acts, sanctioned or otherwise, are particularly heinous and the lack of responsibility particularly egregious. 

Acts of war are essentially individual acts of violence enacted by individuals,or groups of individuals, sometimes under orders and some times not.  But in either case, we can’t suggest that the actors are completely blameless.  For one, Obama’s plans to not prosecute violates obviously weak, though present, international law.  Second, let’s apply the good ol’ ethical litmus test: Nazis.  Nazis unsuccessfully argued the ‘I was only following orders’ at Nuremberg. Well I, for one, am really glad they were unsuccessful; if you’re a Nazi, you’re pretty much guilty of BEING A FUCKING NAZI. The whole only-following-orders thing is not a particularly good ethical argument, especially when it comes to horrific acts of violence, like genocide, or torture.

Obama should be taking a cue from Clinton and start owning up to the actions of Americans, even past actions, instead of shuffling the docket back an administration. Releasing the memos of the Bush administration that sanctioned the torture and not prosecuting the agents who actually committed the torture is scape-goating the dead horse.  We get it, Bush was bad.  And yes, I believe he was a war criminal too.  But a war cannot be fought without willing soldiers, and torture cannot be performed without willing torturers.  

 I am absolutely sympathetic to the soldier complex.  I do support the women and men who are risking their lives to help others.  That is helping others.  Not torturing them.  The international laws are pretty clear and the ethical question, as far as I am concerned, is even clearer and one would hope CIA agents are intelligent enough to know the difference between an ‘order’ and a ‘crime against humanity’ and those that can’t should be held to account.  

No, Obama!

peace,

-a.b.

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6 Comments

Filed under peaceniking.

6 responses to “no, Obama!

  1. Nick

    I feel the closing of Guantanimo had more to do with Obama’s vision for a new transparent government, and reshaping of the American image on the international scene. Now it’s out there, “yes America tortured, and this is how it happened”.

    Obama himself,
    “First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program – and some of the practices – associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.
    http://politics.theatlantic.com/2009/04/obama_explains_memo_release_decision.php

    I think few would disagree that what happened at Guantanimo was wrong, but I feel like we need to be realistic in what Obama can feasibly spend political capital on. Does he stop with the interrogators themselves? What about those who gave executive orders? What about those who found a way to justify the interrogation as not being torture?

    Again, I completely understand what you’re saying, but I think you’re missing the larger picture. Guantanimo is closed, and prosecuting those involved will cause far more harm than good.

    • I definitely understand the political realism of political capital. However, the only way to achieve global ends through non-violence is to start throwing more political capital toward international law. American President’s have a long history of taking political risks for which they are what amounts to being forgiven, a progressive stand on this issue would speak volumes over and above closing Gitmo, which I believe to be the absolute minimum required to affect a new image for America.

      I don’t see how more harm than good could come from prosecuting those responsible for the torture and the line would be drawn according to standards of precedent.

      Guantanimo may be closed but when one person is allowed to be tortured we live in a world where the well being of some is tradable via violence at the whim of a few elites and without prosecution the message is it can be done and so it will be done.

      • Nick

        After reading the memos I am not convinced these individuals should be prosecuted at all, to be honest. According to that outlined in them the individuals carrying out the interrogration were not in fact carrying out acts of torture.

        Realistically, yes, I feel some of the methods used constituted torture, but I don’t feel the issue is as clear cut as though this were nazi germany (lol) to justify strongly inflaming the right in the midst of one of the worst economic crises in decades.

  2. Nick

    That was poorly worded. Given the circumstances I don’t feel the individuals should be prosecuted.

  3. Nick

    But I think we can both agree that the closing of Guantanimo was definitely a huge step forward.

  4. Nick

    not laughing at you with the lol, by the way, I just think you’re hilarious

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