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Friday, October 28, 2016

“…but we tortured some folks.” — President Barack Obama, Aug.1, 2014

OK, in the first place: “tortured some folks?” Really?

Was there not something annoyingly breezy in the president’s phrasing last week as he acknowledged the abuse of suspected terrorists in the wake of September 11? Was there not something off-putting in the folksy familiarity of it?

“We tortured some folks.”

What’s next? “He raped a chick?” “They stabbed a dude?”

Granted, it’s a relatively minor point. But to whatever degree phrasing is a window into mindset, the president’s phrasing was jarring. It is, however, what he said next that we are gathered here to discuss.

Obama, speaking to reporters Friday, invoked the atmosphere after September 11 to explain why the CIA, ahem, tortured some folks. He reminded us that we were all terrified more attacks were imminent and our national security people were under great pressure to prevent them. So while what they did was wrong, said Obama, “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had.”

In other words, we were all scared spitless, so it’s … understandable if not precisely condonable, that the CIA behaved in ways that betrayed our national values. But the president is wrong.

In fairness to him, though, let’s stipulate a few things:

One: Obama has never wavered in calling the torture of suspected terrorists precisely what it was, nor in defining it as a betrayal of what America is supposed to stand for. He did so again last week. “We did some things that were contrary to our values,” he said.

Two: Those things did not happen on Obama’s watch. It was George W. Bush’s administration that rationalized and justified the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation.” Bush made this mess. Obama is just the guy with the push broom.

Three: Obama was trying to walk a political tightrope that was probably unwalkable. Anticipating declassification of a Senate report that is said to cast a harsh light on these tactics, he sought to signal disapproval of what the CIA did, yet not throw its personnel — who now, after all, work for him — under the proverbial bus. That wouldn’t be great for morale.

All that said, it was disappointing to hear the president invoke the frenzy of that era as a mitigating factor. By that logic, you could justify the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942, the McCarthy witch hunt of the 1950s, or dozens of other sins against freedom strewn like scars across the face of American history. All were born of the same broken rationale: We were scared, so we did things we should not have done.

The thinking seems to be that sometimes fear makes our values too heavy to uphold. Actually, it is our capacity for fear that makes them more critical to uphold. And it is disingenuous to pretend the hysteria of the 9/11 era was such that anyone might have done the same thing.

Not only is that not true, but it also insults the moral courage of people like Senator John McCain and Obama himself who did stand up and say, emphatically and at political risk, that this was unworthy of us. So it’s not that it was impossible to speak reason, but that the torturers refused to hear it.

They followed orders instead.

The president opposes the idea of prosecuting them for that and he’s right. That would cast a pall over American intelligence gathering for generations forward.

But there is a lesson here that urgently needs learning, an accounting that ought not be ignored. With the best of intentions and the approval of a morally blinkered White House, the CIA vandalized American honor and all involved must be called on it. That isn’t sanctimony.

It’s patriotism.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected]

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski

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  • Sand_Cat

    Are you joining the GOP? “Breezy words”?
    “Torture” doesn’t sound too breezy to me. It may not be much, but his predecessor and the current disloyal opposition won’t even use the word. Unfortunately, we seem to have to take what we can get, and this guy – even if the charges made by the GOP were true – is still a giant improvement.

  • Dominick Vila

    Was President Obama’s comment on torture a casual remark, an indictment, or a deliberate attempt to help a Middle Eastern country whose international reputation is in the dumps?

    • Independent1

      My sense is that Obama is skirting around the truth because if he said what I think he really believes, that the use of torture by the Bush administration was no mistake, it was not a result of panic or done because of fear, it was done intentionally by at least one very evil man, Cheney, knowing full well that what he was intentionally directing the CIA to do was torture. Whether Bush was really a supporter of the idea or not I’m not sure, but most of what I remember is that he refused to admit that it was going on. When the news broke about it be proven that the CIA had used waterboarding, a reporter directly asked Bush about the revelation, and Bush’s response was; We don’t torture.

      So if Obama admitted that he believed that the torture was done, not because of fear, or a panic to prevent another attack, but as a deliberate method to extract information from a terrorist, even though deemed illegal by the Geneva Convention, then Obama would have to go forward and charge Bush and Cheney with a crime; because there is a law in America which Obama has not yet enforced that requires government officials to prosecute anyone deemed to have used torture.

  • charleo1

    It’s always bothered me, that Obama, once elected had determined we were going to as a Country, as he put it, look forward, not backward, with respect as to how the Bush Administration had managed to get the WMD thing so wrong. And if there was an intentional misleading of the Country into a baseless, and unnecessary war. Although I couldn’t judge his reasoning too harshly, given the shape the Country was in, post Bush. I thought the American people, and the Country deserved some answers. That’s why it bothers me even more, when I hear those on the Right accuse Obama of being the most divisive President in American history. I want to say, if he had decided to be divisive. If being divisive was his intention, how does putting the former head of your Party on trial for war crimes strike you, in the divisive department? And, bye the bye. Stop trying to disagree with everything he says. If he’d push it half as hard as you guys have pushed Benghazi, your former President, his Vice President, the former Secretaries of Defense, and State, along with the FBI Director, and the head of the CIA would all be doing time in Leavenworth. So what are you complaining about? That said, he is getting out ahead of a report that condemns the U.S. Government of torture. This is not news to the wider world, that considers water boarding, and other forms of, “enhanced interrogation,” used on the Bush Administration’s orders torture. And I don’t think President Obama sought to justify it at all. But to put the mistake in some context. Mr. Pitts, which I respect a lot, compares it with other lapses, in which we failed to live up to our values. The internment of the Japanese, or the genocide of Native Americans, the blacklisting of perfectly loyal Americans. Borne out of the paranoia, and fear of Communism, fanned by political opportunists, like Joseph McCarthy, and others. A lot of that still around today. “Central America is invading!” It’s hard to hang on to one’s values, when we allow ourselves to be scared out of them. This might have been one of the lessons we would have re-learned, and remembered, with a thorough investigation of the events post 9/11, leading up to the Iraq War. But, shouldn’t we already know these things by now? That, “We tortured some folks?” And we lost our way, under poor leadership, and forgot in that moment, what it means to be an American? I think we do realize that. But, it’s still jarring to hear a President say it. No matter how softly it’s said.

    • Dominick Vila

      The only way to mitigate the effects of the damage caused by W’s foreign policy, particularly the crusade in Iraq, can only be achieved through deeds, not a rehash of something we are all well aware of. There is no question that our Constitution became nothing more than a political football in the Bush era, that our traditions and values were violated, that international law was ignored and, sometimes, ridiculed, and that the sympathy that so many countries had towards us after 9/11 turned into horror and fear when they heard our childish threats and the pursuit of material goals over the need to punish those most responsible for the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history.
      The GOP wants to take us back, probably to an era that should be confined to the history books, but that does not mean we should emulate their tactics.
      Bush must live with his conscience. Cheney will rot in Hell.

      • Mark Forsyth

        They dare not leave the country as there are many warrants for their arrest.

        • latebloomingrandma

          Not to mention “folks” gunning for them.

          • Mark Forsyth

            Absolutely! There is a standing warrant in the state of Vermont for the arrest of Bush,Cheney,and Rumsfeld.It truly is amazing that these guys are still living.I have to think that they are surrounded by security personnel.

      • As much as I disliked what Bush did to this country, the Emperor has done so much more. I can not understand how some seemly very intelligent people on this site will not recognize what this regime and the liberals have done to our country. Our constitution means nothing to this regime, yet so many of you support it. We really should stop fighting amoung ourselves and start turning our attention to our out of control, lawless government.

        • Dominick Vila

          Would you mind mentioning a couple of examples of the totalitarian behavior that bothers you so much?

          • charleo1

            Exactly! I’m still waiting for someone on the Right to
            point out what it was specifically we Liberals have done to nearly destroy America. Or, of course the
            Constitution. You know, I’m no scholar, but I’m willing
            to take a look, if they would point out the hole Obama
            has supposedly torn in it. He, “dislikes,” what Bush did. But, he just can’t understand, why seemingly intelligent people, he says. Are not running around in 18th century garb, with our hair on fire.

          • Dominick Vila

            Some of the people who claim that President

            Obama is destroying America are simply repeating what they hear from the likes of Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity and the rest of that crowd. Others do it because of ideology. Others do it because they cannot accept a black man as President. That’s what we are up against.

          • BillP

            There you go again trying to get these trolls to offer some provable evidence to back up their ridiculous statements. It never happens, all they can to is parrot some outrageous claims.

        • dpaano

          The Constitution meant even LESS to the Bush/Cheney administration….they violated it on MANY occasions, as well as foreign policy regulations, etc. Perhaps you need to do some reading and research why we liberals say what we say and feel the way we feel. You’re so wrapped up in the lies and fear that the GOP has put out there….you can’t see the forest for the trees!

          • Yeah, yeah. I use to be one of you sheeple, but opened my eyes to the lies and deceit of this tyrant. I was a Bush opponent. I hated most of what he did, and was more than happy to vote for anything that was not Bush like. The Emperor promised hope and change, and I was certainly for that after 8 years of Bush. Unfortunately, the Emperor was worse than anything we have ever had in our White House. He has led this country toward becoming a communist country. I fought against communism, I’m not about to endorse it now.

      • charleo1

        Well, I’m not so sure we are all aware. Some are very aware. Some, so much so, it’s hard for them to fathom how other Americans could be so oblivious. However, a recent Quinnipiac Poll shows that indeed, a lot of Americans either don’t have a clue, or do, and don’t care. A full 2/3 believe the economy hasn’t improved very much, if at all. And by a margin of 46% to 44%, say would prefer the Republicans control a Congress that all sides agree is the worst ever. But are seemingly, unaware, or on’t care, it is the Republican T- Party that’s gumming up the works. Do they realize they would be effectively ending a Presidency they just recently voted for by a fairly wide margin? Or, are they so fed up at
        this point, they just haven’t thought ahead that far? Even while the Country remains in many ways, in the shadow, of what can only be described as, the Bush mess. A solid 57% of Republicans are saying they want, or would like to see Barack Obama impeached. So maybe the Democrats should have moved to impeach. Held endless hearings, brought each of the previous members of the former administration before Congress. Insinuated they were hiding a lot more than they were saying, and demand the truth! In other words, acted more like Republicans. Who can never be accused of giving the American Public too much credit for being informed. Or just assuming, as Obama does quite often, that they know a thing, on account of it being outrageously apparent.

        • Dominick Vila

          Let’s not forget that the Quinnipiac poll predicted a Romney landslide two years ago. Their predictions were so optimistic that the GOP decided to book ballrooms nationwide to celebrate Mitt’s victory, and the Second Coming of the GOP, in style.

          • charleo1

            This is true. Although, it sure is frustrating. As it was about the summer of 2010, when they all started this crap as to just how bad the Democrats were going to get creamed in the fall. And sure enough! And I don’t know if it’s true. Had anything to do with it, at all. But it just seems like all the gloomy prognostications, and the long lines manufactured by GOP voter suppression laws, actually did work to discouraged Democrats. Who granted, are notorious for sitting home in mid terms anyway. As you say, most of the polls were dead wrong about Obama, and Democratic turnout in general, in ’12. And, hopefully they’re just as wrong again. Although I readily admit I don’t understand the attraction to the GOP at all, given their performance at least, since 1995! I do understand that most of media outlets are now controlled by, what is it now, five, or six corps? So, Murdoch is after Time Warner. And Comcast is controlled by as biased a family of Right Wing ideologues as Charles, and David Koch ever thought about being. And we should include, Clear Channel Radio, as well. And it’s virtual monopoly favoring a proliferation of Right Wing talk shows. Of which lately, Rush Limbaugh seems to be the least biased, least crazy, of the lot. Or, maybe I’m crazy, and the T-Party is normal? I’m beginning to wonder!

          • dpaano

            Nope, they’re crazy!!!

        • jointerjohn

          We have become an impatient people who want instant results without much effort. We are politically becoming a nation of couch-squatters holding remote controls, and we won’t even take the time to see if a program may have merit, if it doesn’t please us in the first few seconds we hit the up or down arrow and move on. Never mind thinking, never mind consulting the TV guide or reading reviews, just push the button and switch to something else. It’s OK when watching TV, but when we begin to treat our duty as citizen-electors with the same laziness, we will be screwed.

          • charleo1

            I think there is a lot truth in that. I also think, if one happens to be over the age of 40, (which I’m 59.) They may not have developed the sophistication to cull the wheat from the chaff, the garbage, from the beneficial, or the propaganda from the truth. In an informational environment, where one may choose the venue that says what they would most like to hear. One that’s intentionally geared to affirm, not to inform. And part of that is just natural inclination. And that inclination then is used as the bait to draw a particular listener in. And then, his head is filled with intentional misinformation, and totally biased opinion presented as fact. And all covered by the First Amendment, as rightly it should be. But, I see this new informational
            age presenting unique challenges to those who grew up listening to Walter Cronkite. Who now deal with Sean Hannity, with same level of trust. That fail to realize, it’s a whole new game they’re playing out there today. And nothing can be taken at full value.
            Or, as you point out, just keep hitting the channel
            button, until somebody says something they like.

          • jointerjohn

            Many years ago, (I am just a few months older than you), I came to terms with the fact that it felt comfortable to encase myself in agreeable positions and opinions. I also figured out that if I did only that I would make a damn fool of myself. I seek out dissenting opinions, positions other than my own. I face every day and position accepting that there is at least a fifty percent chance I am dead wrong. It has allowed me to learn, grow, and even become content in my own imperfection. I recommend it to everyone, it is freeing to allow yourself to be wrong.

          • charleo1

            It shows in your posts, that you don’t arrive at your conclusions by chaining yourself to, and becoming a slave to any particular ideology. And this is my number one problem with the extremists who are having a field day with the Conservative Right lately. Everything is a litmus test with the T-Party, to determine the purity of every supposed adherent. It’s very similar to what the fundamental Islamist group, ISIS, is doing in Iraq and Syria today. They are demanding Sunnis, upon the threat of death, to be absolutist, and killing on the spot every Shia they run across. And the thought that there might be the slightest chance of them being wrong, never enters their heads. Likewise with the T-Party. It is a bit of the same kind of insanity. In the halls of Congress today we have these ideologues that see the Democratic Left as having no legitimate standing as a political Party. And see any moderate Conservative that reaches across the isle, compromises with, or recognizes even the legitimacy of the Democratic Party, as a fraud, and ultimately unworthy of membership. As Dominick rightly states. It’s simply what we’re up against right now.

          • dpaano

            I think I mentioned in another post that I just completed a book by John Dean, “Conservatives without Conscience.” It was very good in that it explained in detail how a conservative’s brain works….it’s amazing how they can believe what they believe and think that they are the ONLY ones who are right. It’s downright scary to be their brain!

    • dpaano

      From other reports that I’ve read….our president decided NOT to prosecute Cheney, Bush, and their cohorts because he had too much else on his plate to clean up from Bush’s administration and thought that doing this would only cause great political upheaval at the start of his presidency.

      • charleo1

        I think that’s right. I think he had some hope, given the
        enormous challenges the Country faced, that Congressional
        Republicans, and Democrats could put some of the rancor
        aside, and work to address the very serious and urgent challenges facing the Nation. The deep economic recession
        that threatened to deteriorate into a full blown collapse. The
        drawdown of combat forces in Iraq. As well as trying to salvage our first military action in Afghanistan. That was headed South, due to the lack of effort, and attention, once
        the invasion of Iraq had been launched. Just a crisis a minute. And no doubt, if he had launched into a full scale
        investigation of the previous administration’s failures, he
        would have certainly been accused of alienating half the
        Country, as his first act as President. And historians would
        have most likely agreed. And, no doubt the conversation
        would be about, that road not taken. The what if he hadn’t
        been so divisive? Had given Republicans a chance to work
        with him, instead of indicting them. At least we know now,
        it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. That they had no
        plans of cooperation with Obama, regardless of anything
        he proposed. Even if it was their proposal. Even if they had
        agreed with it in the past. Even if they knew it was based on
        sound economic principle. They were going to oppose it.
        And that too, is an important thing to know. As the true
        history of the Bush years will eventually come to be known.
        And hopefully the valuable lessons earned thru the hard experiences of Iraq, and the deregulation of the financial
        and banking systems, will make us a stronger Country in
        the future.

  • Mark Forsyth

    In regard to torture,when we are exporting democracy,freedom,justice,and liberty,one might consider that the ends don’t always justify the means.That we should back off of torture continues to be debatable in the Intell circles.
    We most likely procured actionable info due to the use of those techniques.If we are going to employ torture in the future,we would be less hypocritical if we were to back off our criticism of it

    • latebloomingrandma

      Despite Darth Cheney’s shameful boasting, I have been against torture due to the fact that it turns us into that which we abhor in the enemy. “We have met the enemy and it is us.”

      • Mark Forsyth

        How true.But you and I both know that a sorry bastard like that doesn’t speak for us.What lively reading we would have if Pogo was still around.

  • Maggie De Vore

    We can talk and yak and conjecture til the cows come home — however — none of us has a clue as to what we would do in the President’s seat. We are all Monday morning quarterbacks and that’s ok when it comes to football, but we’re talking War and Money and Money and War. No one person in government acts alone — they all have backers, voters, pushers, and buyers.
    The extreme complications of government can never be understood. We are treated as children by the media who has made the decision, long before bread became sliced, that fear and bad news sells. So we all have a knee-jerk reaction depending on the media’s daily, hourly, minute-to-minute outpouring of stuff we should be afraid of. Actually Gandhi said that about fear -“if you can make someone frightened enough, he/she will do anything for you.” Not the direct quote, but true. And, it ain’t new. We’ve been bamboozled for years.
    As for Mr. Leonard Pitts, Jr. trying to analyze President Obamas’ words — by now, he and we should all know that our wonderful President does not panic, allow anyone to blow smoke and push him into a state of imbalance.

  • dpaano

    Again, Bush and Cheney used “fear” after 9/11 to make the American people believe that we needed to go after Saddam, even after it was proven that he had NOTHING to do with the entire fiasco. The GOP utilizes fear and lies to get their points across, and this was NO different. They drummed into the public that more and more terrorists were coming to America despite the fact that it wasn’t true. Al Qaida was too busy trying to deal with what they had going in the Middle East to do much more than what they did. The fact that their plan actually worked was startling even to them! But, it gave Bush and Cheney the wherewithal to declare war against a country that did nothing to us other than offend our senses with Saddam using chemical warfare against his own people. Bad deal, of course, but certainly not enough to warrant taking the entire country to war and killing thousands of American soldiers AND innocent middle eastern civilians, as well as cause a major problem in the ENTIRE middle east!!