Obama Is At Yet Another Crossroads On Torture. Will He Blink Again?

Anyone who thought that Barack Obama, having said boo about the Bush Torture Regime while campaigning for president in 2008, would denounce this darkest day in modern American history after taking office was engaging in fuzzy-wuzzy liberal thinking.  For one thing, the new president understood that denouncing, let alone going after the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triumvirate for their crimes would scuttle any chance he had of forging a bipartisan consensus for his ambitious first-term agenda.  But even this Obama supporter is deeply disappointed at how unwilling the president has been to lay bare the regime’s excesses even if stopping short of even suggesting its architects should be prosecuted.

Seven and a half years after Obama promised a new beginning and banned torture in one of his first acts, any expectation that he would at least advocate a thorough examination of the torture regime’s worst excesses has been dashed.  Obama’s endorsement, by his silence, of the CIA’s continued obstruction of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s release of its damning report on torture without redactions that would render it meaningless, is nothing less than a legitimization of that agency’s vile practices.  His defense of CIA Director John Brennan, who has led the campaign to stymie release of the report while tacitly approving the rogue agency’s own spying on the Senate committee, makes farcical the president’s statements that he believes that the U.S. should hew to international law, including the Geneva Conventions.

The latest roadblock to the never-ending series of obstructionist tactics slowing the report’s release is a debate within the administration about whether that presidential decree banning torture should extend to so-called black sites outside the U.S.  These were the gulags run by the CIA where torture was practiced with the acquiescence of host governments like Poland, one of too many countries that participated in a CIA extraordinary rendition program in which terrorism suspects were interrogated at secret facilities beyond the reach of American constitutional protections.

The debate is taking on additional importance because the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Poland violated the rights of two terrorism suspects by transferring them to a CIA-run black site in northeast Poland, while the U.S. itself is to give testimony next month to the United Nations Committee Against Torture regarding whether its policies have been in violation of a UN treaty banning torture.

There is little question that the president sides with the black hats in the debate.  Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman, has said Obama’s opposition to torture at home and overseas is clear but separate from the legal question of whether the UN treaty applies to American behavior overseas.  Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and not the national security advisers one would think would be most qualified, is said to be personally negotiating how much of the Senate report will be redacted.

As tests of president mettle go, this is a biggie.

At a time when 12 fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates are urging Obama to make “full disclosure to the American people of the extent and use of torture” by the U.S., a time when he and other world leaders express outrage at ISIS beheadings and other jihadist excesses (which apparently include . . . yes, waterboarding), nothing less than a blanket declaration that the U.S. will not condone torture anytime or anywhere, as well as release of the Senate report without fatal redactions, leaves the most unpleasant impression that the CIA not only will get its way, but Obama is endorsing by default a loophole in the U.S. interpretation of international law that will justify it torturing again.


Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on October 27, 2014, on Kiko’s House, a website featuring commentary by journalist and author, Shaun Mullen.  It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Mullen.

Image Credit: www.asiantribune.com


  1. Nelson Robison says

    If the allegations prove true as Seymour Hersh has posited and American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison did sodomize boys ages 14-18, while their mothers watched this happening, President Obama cannot help but acknowledge that torture and human rights violations occurred. We the people must hold the feet of the administration to the fire of international laws that state clearly that torture in any form is inhumane, is a war crime and is a human rights violation

    The fact that the administration of the shrub okayed torture as a means of extracting information, is beyond the pale. Men who supposedly swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, denied that we had obligations under treaties signed after WWII. Treaties which the US started and which we were the principal signatory to.

    I would hope that the President would acknowledge our obligation to turn over those who’ve been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity to the International Courts of Justice for trial and if convicted sentencing and imprisonment. Not that I believe that G.W. and his administration will ever see the inside of courtroom. But what I see happening is that these men who supposedly worked for the people of the US will never again leave the US at all, even to visit Europe to ski or do business.

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