By Patricia Lee Sharpe
(1) “We tortured folks.” President Barack Obama.
(2) “I have full confidence in John Brennan.” President Barack Obama.
Let’s get something straight, Mr. President. We didn’t torture anybody, although John Brennan was somewhere in the chain of command when torture was the order of the day. For that reason, he should never have been elevated to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Many of us objected to that appointment. You pushed it forward anyway, Mr. President, thus putting yourself in surprising company, or so we thought, briefly, recalling your very different pre-election personna. We now know that you are really one of them.
You, Mr. President, seem to have joined Dick Cheney’s take-off-the-gloves “dark side,” but we didn’t torture anybody. We believed that we were living in a country whose Constitution provides no exception to the prohibition against ”cruel and unusual” punishment (not even in the wake of a vicious terrorist attack) and where lying to Congress under oath is a crime and a very serious one, because society cannot function without trust. By appointing and continuing to express confidence to a man who lies to Senators, raids their computers and does his energetic best to suppress a full and accurate report on the torture years, you not only betray us, Mr. President, you undermine our system of law. You invite the chaos and/or authoritarianism that disfigures too many countries today. Where there is effectively no law, when government institutions are a laugh, the Kalashnikov rules.
No Collective Guilt
Get this absolutely straight, Mr. President, we did not torture anyone. The collective guilt brush doesn’t apply here, so kindly put it aside. We weren’t consulted. We weren’t informed. When we began to get hints of really bad stuff happening, evidence was destroyed. We the people were fed lie after lie about that, too, meaning denials of the existence as well as the destruction of evidence.
Americans voted for hope in the person of Barack Obama. Not all of us were enraptured by that vacuous promise, but even we expected that you, Mr. President, once elected, would clean up the swamps and dungeons of the Bush years. We expected that a president who had been a constitutional law professor, no less, would not only repudiate the Bush administration’s addiction to cruel and unusual punishment but also—and this was critical, in order to prevent repetition—would prosecute all those who’d had a hand in it. Yes. All of them. From the delicately-distanced decision-makers in the executive offices right on down to the more obviously dirty-handed guys in the ultra secret “black hole” torture chambers, whether C.I.A. operatives themselves or contractors employed for the purposes of “plausible deniability.”
The Dark Side Rules
But you didn’t, Mr. Obama. You pretended to take the high road, persuading a gullible public that we should just write off the mistakes of the past and concentrate on doing better in the future. You weren’t even willing to prosecute the C.I.A. operatives who destroyed the torture tapes or their equally culpable immediate supervisors, a very serious crime you were happy to overlook. Had we correctly foreseen the astonishing future, the very near future, we wouldn’t have been surprised. What you had in mind, it seems, was the creation of a bigger, better rogue state, an even more perfect police state: you brought the N.S.A. into the picture. Soon our own government was spying on all of us all the time. No warrants needed. Too inconvenient.