President Obama’s condemnation of torture has proven only rhetorical so far.
On Thursday, memos to the CIA written by senior Bush administration lawyers that provided the legal rationale for the authorization of water-boarding and other harsh methods of interrogation, were made public.
While Obama’s insistence on making these memos public sends an acknowledgment of culpability to the rest of the world, he did not go far enough. He has stated that he will not prosecute these interrogators, which may be setting a chilling precedent.
Obama ran for president on the notion that he would bring a new sense of accountability absent from the federal government under Dubya, and, for the most part, he has delivered.
He has taken steps in fixing a tanking economy, begun a new peace process with “evildoers” such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran and has started rebuilding our image abroad.
Yet, dating back to his last summer in the Senate, Obama has not yet taken a real stand on civil rights issues pertaining to the War on Terror.
He voted in favor of a Bush-sponsored bill granting immunity to telecom companies that engaged in wiretap programs to spy on American citizens in the name of national security. He has also dodged questions about whether he’ll start an investigation into possible criminal activity relating to torture by Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove or any other Bushies.
He does deserve credit for closing Guantanamo Bay, which served as the symbol of the Bush administration’s quiet nod of approval toward torture. That said, its relationship to the issue is like Queen Elizabeth’s relationship with Britain: While both make headlines, they hold no real influence in policy-making.
In justifying his decision not to prosecute CIA agents involved in torture, or those that crafted the memos, Obama stated a desire to “move forward, as opposed to looking back.”
While this sentiment may apply nicely to getting dumped by a significant other, torture by the CIA under the watchful eye of the Bush administration is a whole different animal. Saying you’re ready to move on from something like this does little to nothing in terms of preventing egregious policy such as this from happening again.
If Obama is not willing to prosecute such gross violations of human rights now, what’s stopping a future president from deciding to implement other potentially unconstitutional policies?
When Germany was defeated in World War I, after reparations were established, the world looked away from their suddenly tumultuous political climate. We all know who came to power 15 years later.
The “they-were-just-following-orders” argument for not seeking criminal charges for interrogators is little more than a cop-out.
Nazi soldiers decided dissent was not worth the price of execution. CIA interrogators might have lost their jobs for refusing to help Bush play Jack Bauer, but that involved a decision of morality, far from a death wish.
I understand the President’s desire to look to the future. This country is riddled with problems, and foresight is essential to long-term prosperity. We cannot dwell on the past.
Prosecuting these torturers, or the men that enabled their acts, however, is not dwelling. It would be the correction of a dangerous blow to our image domestically and abroad. It would cripple, if not fully eliminate, any chance of something this horrifying ever being perceived as legitimate policy.
Instead, unless the president decides to change his mind, this decision creates a potentially terrifying precedent. We have to look forward, but not at the expense of learning from and correcting our mistakes. Otherwise, history is bound to repeat itself.
Kevin Hollinshead is a sophomore political science major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.