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Obama and torture: Why did he go to CIA Headquarters?

by Kenneth J. Theisen Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009 at 7:20 AM

Last week the Obama administration released more of the “torture memos” written by Department of Justice lawyers during the Bush regime. These and previous memos were written to provide legal cover for the torture of prisoners taken in the war of terror conducted by the Bush regime. After being given this legal cover, President Bush and other top officials of his criminal regime ordered torture and other illegal acts. We now know that there were regular meetings held at the White House where the specifics of torture were discussed by top administration officials.

Almost all of the top criminals of the regime were present at these meetings, at one time or another. Bush has acknowledged that he was aware of the meetings and that he approved of them. A key question now is whether Obama administration will hold these various criminals of the Bush regime criminally responsible for their actions which resulted in torture, and even death. Based on his actions and words it is clear that the top criminals of the regime will escape responsibility if Obama has his way.

Obama has been conducting a public relations gambit to try to convince people that his election has resulted in real change as far as the issue of torture is concerned. The reality is that this is nothing more than a political charade and that the essential fascist trajectory of war, occupation, torture, and spying begun under the Bush regime is continuing under the Obama administration.

Let’s examine what Obama has really done, as opposed to the political spin his propaganda machine has put on his actions.

In one of his most popular actions, Obama ordered that the hellhole prison at Guantanamo be shut down within a year. Many prisoners there have been held for seven years. We know now that many of the people held there were totally innocent of any crimes or connections to torture and that the government knew that as well, but still they were subject to torture and other criminal acts. A number of the detainees there died. Prisoners were held without being provided with adequate due process. Some were provided kangaroo hearings, but many did not even have those. Many have finally been released, but others were merely transported to other hellholes run by the U.S. or by its allies in torture. Still others remain incarcerated at Gitmo awaiting future decisions by the Obama administration.

The reason Obama specified a year to shut Gitmo down is so that his government can figure out how to handle the other prisoners still remaining there. His administration is figuring out how to continue to hold them, but without the “stain” of Gitmo attaching to his regime. But just transferring detainees to another hellhole is not changing anything except the public relations factor.

Also at the same time that Obama is shutting Gitmo, he is expanding a similar facility at Bagram in Afghanistan. Bagram is just as bad as Gitmo, if not worse. It is on a vast U.S. military base in Afghanistan. It is also a place of torture and death for detainees in the war of terror being conducted now by the Obama administration. Did Obama order its closure? No! In fact he recently requested that Congress provide additional funding so that Bagram could be expanded. He also did not order the shutdown of other hellholes run by the Department of War under his command. His administration also recently opposed the granting of due process rights to prisoners held at Bagram in a federal court case.

Is it okay if due process is violated by an Obama administration at Bagram, but not okay when it was done by the Bush regime at Gitmo?

Well at least Obama is releasing the “torture memos” and that is a positive move, say his defenders. Some of the torture memos were released under the Bush regime, but it is true that more are now being released by the Obama administration. But this was not done because Obama wanted to expose the true nature of the U.S. government. It was done because Obama knew that they would become public, and he and his PR spin doctors wanted to at least try to control the public relations around the release of the documents. Obama admitted as much on Monday, April 20th.

On that day he went to the CIA headquarters to defend his actions and to confirm to the CIA “troops” that he was with them all the way. He told the cheering crowd at the CIA that, “I acted primarily because of the exceptional circumstances that surrounded these memos, particularly the fact that so much of the information was public.”

At the CIA he referred to a civil court case that would have resulted in the release of the memos. The ACLU and others have been aggressively pursuing the release of documents that made torture possible. It is a well-known public relations strategy when you know bad news will become public to go public with it yourself so that you can minimize the damage and control some of the spin. This is what Obama did with the release of the memos. He ordered the release so that he could make it appear to be voluntary and to assure people that he was a different kind of president than Bush. And this strategy has largely worked, with most people praising him for his “openness,” as opposed to the secrecy of the Bush regime.

So now that the fact that torture was an integral part of the Bush regime has been acknowledged we can expect that all the criminals will be arrested and prosecuted, right? Dream on!

One of the first things Obama did to keep his CIA boys happy was to announce that he would not seek prosecutions of any of the actual torturers as long as they acted within the “parameters” of the torture memos. The torture memos were the “golden shield” that gave a get-out-of-jail-free card to the torturers and those that ordered the torture.

While at the CIA headquarters on Monday, Obama did about everything he could to rally the troops so that they would assist him further in the war of terror. Obama said that a court case was going to force the memos to be released and that much of what they contained had already been compromised through leaks to news media. He told the assembled CIA employees, "Don't be discouraged by what's happened the last few weeks. I know the last few days have been difficult. You need to know you've got my full support." What is Obama telling these agents of torture and repression? “ So you did a little torture, don’t worry, I’m behind you”.

He gave the CIA “credit” for upholding “American values and ideals.” He told the assembled CIA employees that this is, “what makes the United States special and what makes you special." Yes the good old American value of torture. He is right. Torture is a tradition of U.S. imperialism.

So now we know that the actual torturers will escape justice for their criminal actions. But what about people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and all the top officials that issued the torture orders? What about lawyers, such as John Yoo and others, who authored the torture memos? Surely Obama is outraged and will make sure that they face justice. Well maybe not.

Over the past weekend, Obama chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, stated that the Obama administration won't seek prosecution of "those who devised policy." On Tuesday, April 21st, Obama said the decision about prosecution of those who wrote the memos, “is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws and I don't want to prejudge that.” He also stated, "There are a host of very complicated issues involved.” In other words, he would leave the decision to Eric Holder, his attorney general (AG). In the less than three months of Holder’s tenure, the Justice Department has repeatedly gone to court to uphold the “national security state” created by the Bush regime. Do not expect the AG to aggressively prosecute anyone that played a role in the national security state.

Obama did not make any reference to prosecuting the very top officials of the Bush regime. Obama did tell reporters on the 21st that he may support a congressional investigation into the terrorist detainee program. But then he made clear that the investigation would have to be carefully controlled. He said such an investigation would have to be done on a “bipartisan basis” as he feared congressional hearings could impede government efforts to combat terrorism. This is political code for making sure that any investigation is politically controlled so that not too much is revealed that will hurt the current war of terrorism that Obama is now conducting in his role as commander-in-chief.

Obama also said an investigation "outside of the typical hearing process" and with the participation of "independent participants who are above reproach…would probably be a more sensible approach to take.” He apparently thinks that this process could be even more controllable than a congressional hearing. He then stated his typical response for not going after the Bush regime criminals, “As a general view, I do think we should be looking forward, not back. I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations."

Obama is making it clear that his chief role is to continue the U.S. war of terror and that he will not tolerate anything that will inhibit this. This is the bottom line – the war of terror must proceed. Obama is now in command of this war and he will do nothing that will interfere in this war. Besides prosecuting top criminals in the regime will set a bad precedent for top officials in the Obama administration who are now continuing the war begun by the Bush regime. They are now the ones that are responsible for war crimes and other crimes against humanity. Yes Bush and other officials were responsible on their watch, but now Obama and his team are in charge and bear all the criminal responsibility that goes with their actions. That is why we should not expect any real accountability for Bush regime officials to be enforced by Obama and his minions.
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