April 19, 2009

The Torture Memos: Why Did Obama Release Them?

The Obama administration released four memos from the Bush Justice Department that provided the legal basis for the CIA’s use of torture on captured terrorists. That move prompted harsh criticism from a number of quarters, charging that the administration has harmed the security of the United States and made the job of our security agencies more difficult by giving our enemies an advance look at our techniques.

The administration answered those criticisms in the President's statement on the release;

"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."

But when you think about it a little further, none of that really seems to stand as very strong rationales for releasing the details outlined in the memos. This was my primary question of the administration. Why release this? The answer to that question is in the President's statement as well;

".....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."

Its politics. Obama, with the release of these memos, is tarring the GOP as the party of torture. These memos make abundantly clear the manner in which torture was authorized and applied and by whom and on what authority. Republican operatives, spokespersons and luminaries vociferously castigated the President through the weekend, charging that he's made America less safe and in most cases, defending the use of torture, though sometimes trying to dance around using the word torture with the euphemism enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT) as former CIA Director Michael Hayden did on Fox this past weekend.

Obama has maneuvered the GOP into making a vocal and hearty defense of using torture. I'm sorry, but thats not a good look. Why? Because the average American is a decent human being and doesn't like the idea of their government engaging in the routine brutalization of human beings. Don't get me wrong. We expect the Jack Bauer's of the world to be out there, extracting information from the bad guys to prevent the release of that nasty biological or nuclear WMD in an American city and if some fingers gotta get broke to make it happen, so be it. BUT; we don't want to see it or know about it AND we give some leeway in an emergency. People seem to forget that those scenarios we love to watch on 24 Monday nights are events playing out over the course of 24 hours. Thats what we imagine happens in an emergency and we're a practical people. You gotta do what you gotta do.

But what Americans are not down for is the bureaucratization of torture. We're not down for the routine imposition of pain and suffering on people, even terrorist suspects, as our default methodology for getting information. And what the GOP defenders of the use of torture don't really seem to get is that the average American thinks thats what they are for. Hayden in his critique of Obama on Fox didn't qualify the use of torture at all. He just kept arguing for or it to be retained as a technique. Didn't say in the event of emergency or under proper circumstances. He just argued that we should be allowed to torture. Their in lies the evil genius behind Obama's release of the memos. He's got the GOP screaming at the top of their lungs, "we want to torture people, and Obama won't let us".