Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mark Danner on Obama and torture

Scott Horton interviews Mark Danner, who puts rather better than TBA can our shared reaction to the new administration:
Those who thought the Obama Administration would come in with a blazing white sword to bring light and truth to all these terrible policies have been painfully disappointed. We are embarked on a very long story, with no easily charted plot line, no readily identified climax, and no conclusion in sight. All of us, including Barack Obama and his administration, are all still living in “Bush’s State of Exception,” and it is clear by now that the way out will come not by hacking through it with a machete but by finding a pathway through with a compass. This is dismaying and maddening; but it is what it is.

My sense is President Obama may have underestimated the resistance he would encounter on many of these issues--and the political cost of taking the steps he thought he wanted to take. He is confronting two battles, one within the administration, another outside it. I think the former vice president has been extremely effective in terrifying many politicians by reminding them once again how torture can be used as a badge of national security credibility, and how its renunciation can be deployed as a weapon to brand one “soft on national security” who “coddles terrorists.” We knew these arguments well, of course; what is surprising is how effective they can still be in the hands of someone as politically ruthless and aggressive as Cheney.

Some of these problems are immensely complicated and admit of no easy solution. I oppose the idea of prolonged or indefinite detention--but some people I respect support it as the least bad solution to a vexing problem: Could we release someone like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, for example, if we were unable legitimately to convict him? (That “legitimately” is important, I think; for the other path is to alter the existing legal framework to such an extent that it becomes, through what might be criticized as wholesale corruption of the law, much easier to convict him and his alleged colleagues.)

Presumably we will be hearing from Obama’s task forces on this and other issues: we are, as I say, only at the beginning of what may well be a deeply dispiriting journey. For my part, I believe the administration has chosen a more difficult path by ruling out a commission on the 9/11 model, however flawed that might have been, to investigate many of these matters and add vital independent political weight to its conclusions. The “middle path” that has resulted, with the possibility of investigations and even prosecutions of those interrogators who “went beyond” the waterboarding and other harsh techniques that the Bush Administration policymakers and lawyers permitted, risks an outcome similar to the disgrace of Abu Ghraib, where you had obvious lawbreaking by policymakers and other high officials left uninvestigated and unpunished and lower-level people suffering--however repulsive their actions--what was in effect scapegoating. Perhaps the prosecutor’s work will lead inexorably to a more thorough and honest investigation, as some believe; but I fear that, when it comes to accountability, it may leave us in the worst of all worlds.
That's the answer to # 5 of 6 questions; the whole interview merits attention.

No comments:

Post a Comment