Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Obama’s “sword of Damocles:” failure to deal with America’s torture

by Larry Geller

Sword of Damocles First Obama was about to release a small selection of new torture photos (for sure, they would not be the worst ones). Now he has changed his mind. Closing Guantanamo was a major campaign promise and on taking office he said he would do it, but he can’t even get his own party to go along with him. He does not seem to have ended torture there, and is bringing back military commissions.

The Senate has just voted decisively to strip funding needed to close GITMO from a military funding bill. The amendment was introduced by Obama’s fellow Hawaii native Sen. Inouye. That and the 90-6 vote must have hurt.

One of  host of articles appearing worldwide:

Senators on Wednesday followed through with their vow to deny the Obama administration the necessary money to close the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Voting 90-6, the Senate stripped $80 million from a supplemental military funding bill, $50 million of which was designated to close the controversial prison and $30 million for a Justice Department investigation into interrogation techniques used there.

The amendment by Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe - both of whom have personally toured the prison - actually goes beyond the military supplemental to deny the administration any past money it could use to close the prison and transfer the prisoners into the United States. [The Hill, Guantanamo Closure Funds Stripped by Senate, 90-6, 5/20/2009]

These reversals and the resistance from his own party can only hurt Obama and diminish the glow of his halo. It’s becoming clear that the Obama who was packaged for election is not the Obama who now must deal with actually being president. It does not speak well of Democrats (who may themselves have been briefed on the torture) that they are working against, rather than for, resolution of the torture issues and of their own likely complicity.

Above Obama hangs a “sword of Damocles” that will threaten his image as long as the new photos are not released, as long as GITMO remains open, and as long as our government refuses to prosecute the real criminals who tortured and cost prisoners their lives—in fact, the story of the homicides has largely not even surfaced in the American press. The bad apples are not the ones at the bottom of the barrel, they are the ones at the top during the Bush administration who have poisoned the whole batch.

Obama doesn’t seem to be concerned about rescuing American values. The world is taking note, however. Trials that should have been held in this country will take place in Spain. Instead of cleaning up our act we will be letting others demonstrate, over the coming months and years, that we would rather compound our guilt by trying to cover up instead of cure what we did. It’s too big to cover up, though. Releasing the photos now would be a useful step, while letting them come to light via leaks in the future gives us no credit at all.

The photos will likely emerge one day, and with increased impact just because Obama is trying to suppress them. In Spain, Judge Baltasar Garzon has launched probes that will play out over time. Even if the Spanish government yields to pressure and derails the trials, that will not stop the controversy or quiet the growing anger should we not deal appropriately with Guantanamo, rendition, and our continued use of torture at home and abroad.

Check out today’s Democracy Now, 10 p.m. channel 56 on Oahu, or on the web, for New Yorker Correspondent Jane Mayer and British Attorney Philippe Sands on Bush Administration Torture and How Obama Should Address It.

I now turn you over to Jon Stewart, from his program yesterday.

(click the little box in the lower right for full-screen)


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