Obama Refuses to Criticize Bush Administration Over Torture

Obama Refuses to Criticize Bush Administration Over Torture December 11, 2014

After the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report on Tuesday, President Obama did an interview in which he was asked about it. While admitting that some “brutal activity” took place, he suddenly lapsed into the passive voice in pointedly refusing to criticize the Bush administration for what they did:

“Unfortunately, the Senate report shows we engaged in some brutal activity after 9/11,” Obama told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. “This is an accounting of some of the problems that the CIA program engaged in. I recognize that there’s controversy in terms of the details, but what’s not controversial is the fact that we did some things that violated who we are as a people.”…

In the interview with Fusion, Obama declined to directly criticize Bush, but he said it was clear some people in the administration had made “some terrible mistakes.”

“I don’t think you can know what it feels like to know that America’s gone through the worst attack on the continental United States in its history, and you’re uncertain as to what’s coming next,” Obama told Ramos.

“So there were a lot of people who did a lot of things right and worked really hard to keep us safe. But I think that any fair-minded person looking at this would say that some terrible mistakes were made in allowing these kinds of practices to take place. In part, because I think study after study has shown that when people get tortured, when people are beaten, when people are put in a position of severe stress and pain, oftentimes they’re willing to say anything to alleviate that stress and pain. So the information we get isn’t necessarily better than doing things the right way.

“My goal is to make sure, having banned this practice as one of the first things I did when I came into office, that we don’t make that mistake again.”

No, sorry. The problem isn’t that “terrible mistakes were made,” the problem is that specific people did terrible things. And if your goal really is to make sure it doesn’t happen again, you don’t help achieve that goal by refusing to hold anyone accountable for it. What possible reason is there for a future president to not engage in torture if they choose? Nothing has happened to anyone from the Bush administration. They continue to walk free despite the crimes they committed and continue to be viewed as Very Serious People by the media and most of the public.

Meanwhile, our treaty obligations have been shown to be a joke. Our talk of the rule of law is an even worse joke. Any moral authority we might have had to speak out against atrocities carried out by other nations will be met with nothing more than an eyeroll, as it should be. Don’t tell me you want to make sure it doesn’t happen again when every action you’ve taken only makes it more likely that it will.

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  • ‘The problem isn’t that “terrible mistakes were made,” ‘

    But terrible mistakes were made!! Come on, Shrubby was elected twice!!!

  • Michael Heath

    FDR was at least somewhat feeble in his diplomatic efforts against Germany in the 1930s where he acknowledged such by pointing towards our treatment then of black people as to way we couldn’t be more effective. He couldn’t even point to another political party to excuse away his administration since southern Democrats were a key component of our savage barbarism back then.

  • “How you does your client plead?”

    “Guilty, your Honor. But mistakes were made!”

    “Very well. Case dismissed.”

  • Kevin Kehres

    I honestly think that we should cut Obama some slack on this. He’s obviously walking a fine line here.

    Let’s give him the credit he deserves for stopping the practice, and let others sharpen their knives against the human rights violators that preceded him. If someone at The Hague were to demand Cheney’s extradition to stand trial for war crimes, I for one would not oppose it. But Obama can’t come out and do the same.

  • freemage

    I used to argue that Osama bin Laden, Al-Queda and even terrorism in general could not pose an existential threat to the United States. I was wrong–they won, we lost. We surrendered everything we might once have had during the Bush years, and have done almost nothing since then to regain it.

  • freemage

    Kevin Kehres: Why not? He’s not running for election again; hell, no Democrat in the country will be running under him again, either. And even if he can’t (for reasons unknown) actually call fro the indictments of those responsible, why can’t he declassify more documents and turn over everything we have to both the press and the World Court? So long as he refuses to act in any way against those who disgraced our nation, he is complicit in that disgrace.

  • Die Anyway

    I thought GWB should have been impeached for his violations of the Constitution, at the very least, and possibly tried on criminal charges but I don’t think Obama can go there. BHO has his own dirty laundry and skeletons-in-the-closet to consider. Drone killings of American citizens is one we know about but who knows what hasn’t come to light. The Republicans will eventually regain the White House and payback is a bitch, as they say. I’m guessing there is an unwritten presidential rule… don’t prosecute your predecessor or you might be next.

  • eric

    “I don’t think you can know what it feels like to know that America’s gone through the worst attack on the continental United States in its history, and you’re uncertain as to what’s coming next,”

    Point 1: yes, we do know what it feels like, because we all experienced it. If you had asked the public “should we torture our enemies to get information to ensure it doesn’t happen again” in 2012-2104, I’m sure you would’ve gotten a mixed bag of answers. However, the president is supposed to lead. To show leadership qualities such as the ability to rise above petty emotions and immediate desires, and instead do what’s right for the country in the long term. So the “you don’t know how it feels” line fails on two counts: it fails because we do know, and it fails because we expect more from our Presidents than making national policy decisions based on “how it feels.”

    Point 2: notice how he uses the word continental to try and avoid any comparison to WWII. Because while we did intern Japanese-Americans in response to Pearl Harbour, to my knowledge we didn’t start torturing them for information. IOW, he’s trying to prevent comparisons to an actual worse attack against us, after which we *didn’t* decide torture was necessary. Because, obviously, that comparison completely undermines his excuse.

  • But terrible mistakes were made!! Come on, Shrubby was elected twice!!!

    Well, an argument can be strongly made that he was only elected once.

  • Childermass

    I think there was a huge problem with the implementation of the treaty especially in how it is implemented in practice. Basically if you until the situation comes up then it becomes very hard to enforce in practice. The mechanism should have been created to enforce the treat immediately after the senate ratified it.

    Even Obama really was a peacemaker who deserved a Nobel Peace prize innocent in the business of torture, it will be very hard for him to press charges against anyone except maybe some scapegoat. There is a huge conflict-of-interest problem with an administration prosecuting its predecessor. It does not take much to imagine that this will come up in court. And then there issue that, even if innocent, if Obama presses charges against Bush there will almost certainly be payback next time a Republican administration comes to power. Officials pressing charges against those who held the office before them is incredibly destabilizing. It would be a matter of time before someone tried a coup to avoid it. Given the military’s clear sympathy to the right wing we might consider this might be a road to something truly horrible.

    If charges are ever to be pressed against the highest officials of a prior administration it must not be seen as coming from the current president. And of course any administration is unlikely to prosecute its own. Thus the decision should have never been in the Administration’s hands in the first place. It should have been in the hands with decades of experience in the government who are not have never been political appointees or holders of elected office. How about career lawyers in the justice department acting in advice of career diplomats and defense personnel. They should decide if a special prosecutor should be instated or a grand jury convened. Furthermore, the judge assigned should have at least 16 years service as so he was not appointed by the last two administrations.

    I realize what I propose is hardly perfect, but it has got to be better by far than what we got now.

  • Artor

    Kevin @4

    I’d love to give Obama credit for ceasing the practice of torture. But the thing is, we don’t know if he has done any such thing. Look at the lies and stonewalling, even of this heavily redacted report. And the refusal to prosecute the last regime’s torturers. Since the only people to go to jail over this have been the people who revealed that the law was being broken, it’s hard to believe that the torture program isn’t continuing on it’s merry way under Obama’s auspices.

  • caseloweraz

    If you want the cynical viewpoint, here it comes:













    “Yet somehow, Americans continue to forget that torture is normal. Every revelation is novel, awakening anew the shattered pseudo innocence good people believe about their supposedly well-meaning country.

    And so we debate this or that instance, this or that little war, and the extenuating circumstances our brave warriors therein confronted.

    The media is awash today in headlines like “Officials fear torture report could spark violence.” These officials act as if our enemies—the people we have tortured for generations—are as stupid and amnesiac as our own cosseted citizens.”


  • Martin

    @4 Kevin Kehres: Nobody with the ICC in the Hague will call for the extradition of anyone involved in this. The USA hasn’t ratified the signing of the treaty and has made clear they will not ever ratify it. The ICC has no jurisdiction over any war criminals and human rights violators in the USA. If they had I am pretty sure Bush, Cheney and half the CIA would be on trial or convicted by now, or at least wanted men.

  • Hey, Obama, the UN Convention against torture, which your nation-state has signed and ratified, states:

    No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a

    threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency,

    may be invoked as a justification of torture.

    (Article II, paragraph 2)

    So you (and Brennan) can take that 9/11 stuff and stick it in your ear.

  • I can sympathize with Obama, because if he did the right thing we KNOW there would be a caucus of the opposition party that would – in defiance of logic and reason – view it as politically motivated and spin it to the public as such as hard as they could. That would create a tit for tat climate where folks would be screaming for him to be indicted over anything they construe as wrong, and they’d have some potential hits among the innumerable misses.

    Not that it being difficult or that it would risk exposure of your own misdeeds is ever a compelling excuse for not doing the right thing, but I do feel for anyone who is afraid to put their own nuts on the anvil.