The New York Times issued a harshly worded editorial — though not harshly enough — condemning President Obama for his continuing cover up of Bush-era torture.
The Obama administration has clung for so long to the Bush administration’s expansive claims of national security and executive power that it is in danger of turning President George W. Bush’s cover-up of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism into President Barack Obama’s cover-up.
This is not nearly harsh enough. That danger has long since come true. Obama’s policies on transparency and accountability for torture are his own and should be condemned on their own, regardless of whether Bush made the same arguments first. Indeed, they should be condemned precisely because we condemned Bush for making those same arguments. Failing to condemn them when made by the other party would be hypocritical and intellectually dishonest.
In the United States, the Obama administration is in the process of appealing a sound federal appellate court ruling last April in a civil lawsuit by Mr. Mohamed and four others. All were victims of the government’s extraordinary rendition program, under which foreigners were kidnapped and flown to other countries for interrogation and torture.
In that case, the Obama administration has repeated a disreputable Bush-era argument that the executive branch is entitled to have lawsuits shut down whenever it makes a blanket claim of national security. The ruling rejected that argument and noted that the government’s theory would “effectively cordon off all secret actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the C.I.A. and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.”
The Obama administration has aggressively pursued such immunity in numerous other cases beyond the ones involving Mr. Mohamed.
This is the state secrets privilege issue that I have written and spoken so much about, an issue on which Obama has plainly, brazenly and repeatedly lied. In his campaign he spoke out against this broad conception of the SSP. On April 30, he looked right into the camera and declared that he favors a much narrower conception of it. Yet in court case after court case, his attorneys continue to argue for the broadest conception imaginable and they continue to appeal rulings in favor of the narrow conception that the administration says it wants.
And the Times absolutely nails the administration on its arguments for withholding the release of any material, photo or text, that details the kind of torture we’re talking about:
Victims of the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including Mr. Mohamed, have already spoken in harrowing detail about their mistreatment. The objective is to avoid official confirmation of wrongdoing that might be used in lawsuits against government officials and contractors, and might help create a public clamor for prosecuting those responsible. President Obama calls that a distracting exercise in “looking back.” What it really is is justice.
In a similar vein, Mr. Obama did a flip-flop last May and decided to resist orders by two federal courts to release photographs of soldiers abusing prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. Last week, just in time to avoid possible Supreme Court review of the matter, Congress created an exception to the Freedom of Information Act that gave Secretary of Defense Robert Gates authority to withhold the photos.
We share concerns about inflaming anti-American feelings and jeopardizing soldiers, but the best way to truly avoid that is to demonstrate that this nation has turned the page on Mr. Bush’s shameful policies. Withholding the painful truth shows the opposite.
Like the insistence on overly broad claims of secrecy, it also avoids an important step toward accountability, which is the only way to ensure that the abuses of the Bush years are never repeated.