Friday, April 17, 2009

Stop the politics as usual

Obama is getting to me.

I am deeply concerned not that he is taking on too much, but that he is doing too little.

Frankly, I am astonished at his decision on torture. If you are not going to punish the men who actually committed the torture because they were “following orders” then prosecute the sick individuals who approved the torture and gave the go-ahead order. They glorify torture; America does not. Prosecute. Now.

If you don’t, Mr. President, somewhere in the future some other administration will repeat this horrendous mistake using your ruling as precedent. And think of what will happen to Americans who are held captive.

While I’m on this rant, I urge you to have the cajones to outlaw the sale of automatic weapons. Too many U.S. automatic rifles are used by Mexican drug gangs. Forget the NRA. Those people will never vote for you regardless.

Just do the right thing. And hurry. Everybody knows the power of the president wanes from the first term to the second.


Jeff Hebert said...

This is a major hot-button issue for me. But I think essentially Obama is saying to you, me, the American people, the media, and the various political factions what FDR told his party:

"I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it." We've got to keep the pressure on him and MAKE him do something about it. Congress won't unless they're forced, so we have to get to forcing them. Obama won't unless he's forced (and I think he wants to be), because if he just tees it up it looks like a political witch hunt instead of what it is -- justice. I think that just as it took Republicans signing on to get Watergate investigated, the same thing is going to have to happen to get torture brought into the light.

I am just sick to my stomach that this abomination was perpetrated by my country. The only way to keep it from happening again is to drag it out into the open and kill it, by prosecuting the people who gave the orders. I don't want the foot-soldiers, the CIA guys on the front lines who were doing what they were told was legal and necessary to protect their country. I want the gutless cowards behind the lines who wrote the legal arguments making it possible, and the men who asked them to write them in the first place.

You know, it's funny. I read a lot of comics and fantasy/sci-fi stuff. And the one sure way to tell who the villains are is by finding the torturers. And yet, here we are. Incredibly sad, and incredibly infuriating.

The South Plainsman said...

I don't suppose that anyone thinks that he has found that they didn't violate the law. Surely that wouldn't be the case. After all, Bush was evil, not the terrorists that were trying to kill Americans.

Regarding automatic weapons: the unlicensed possession of automatic weapons has been against the law for over 50 years.

Another point is that while the "traceable" weapons they find in Mexico came from America (because we require the record keeping), 83% of the weapons used by the cartels comes from elsewhere. And the main sources of American weapons comes from shipments to the Mexican Army.

You are right about one thing, though. Members of the NRA (I am) will never vote for Obama.

Laura Burns said...

A cajon is a footlocker. Perhaps you meant cojones.

Jeff Hebert said...

SP, this administration broke the law, on purpose. That can't be denied by anyone with a shred of integrity. You can, as you seem to be doing here, make the case that breaking the law was for the greater good. Lincoln did it, but he was willing to put himself under judgment for it. Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Addington, and the rest are not. They simply declare that the executive should, at will, be able to violate any law, domestic or international, that he wants to, at any time, pretty much for any reason, and should never, ever be held accountable by anyone, for any reason, ever.

As a conservative, that should trouble you profoundly. That is the very definition of tyranny. To stop that kind of thing is the very reason our Constitution was written. The fact that these were Republicans is irrelevant -- no one should be above the law. No one. Not you, not me, not George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, not a Supreme Court Justice, no one.

You can't GET a more fundamental conservative principle than that. It's absolutely foundational and I am appalled at how many alleged conservatives are willing to chuck it right out the air lock because someone with an R after their name is responsible.

If the argument is "Yes, we broke the law, but we did it to protect the country" then make that argument, but trying to define away what you KNOW to be illegal is simply indefensible. Read the memos that were released the other day. The author outright admits that we were doing the same things that are torture when any other country does it. He just says that since it's us, it's ok.

That's the basis of their actions. They ignore that fact that they were shredding the very document and the very principles they were allegedly protecting. They ignore the fact that they made us less safe. They ignored the fact that they were committing what, to any civilized person, were heinous acts.

If you think they were justified in it, if you think the end justified the means, then say so. But don't pretend they didn't break the law deliberately, because even they as much as admit it in the limited content we've seen so far.

The South Plainsman said...

Jeff, you are full of it. You don't even know what they actually did, much less whether it was lawful. You hate Bush and Republicans, and that is fine. But don't pretend that you know what you are talking about when you talk about the law.

You may want the law to be what you want it to be, but it is what it is. And what they did was not unlawful, no matter how much you wish it was.

Jeff Hebert said...

SP, what they did is a matter of public record from a variety of non-partisan sources, including the Red Cross. They did exactly what they said they were going to do in the memos just released.

And under any standard of human decency -- more importantly, under the laws we ourselves have used to prosecute others -- those acts were torture. Period.

We are signatories to international treaties banning the use of torture. The Constitution mandates that we are bound by any legally ratified treaties.

This isn't rocket science. You don't have to be a lawyer to get it. Torture is illegal. We tortured people. Ergo, the Bush Administration broke the law.

And not in some hum-drum way, SP. For the love of Pete, prisoners in our care DIED from these practices. The memos talk about smashing people's heads against walls, about putting them in coffins, about subjecting them to waterboarding (which we prosecuted Japanese officers for in WW2, mind you).

That's not some rabid Bush-hating liberal Democrat talking. That's right from the horse's mouth. That's the President's law staff, saying right there in black and white that yes, these are things we as a nation have condemned in others, have prosecuted as crimes when committed by other countries. But it's ok because it's us.

That's it. That's the reasoning they used to torture people. And you're ok with that?

Their whole rationale, as articulated by Yoo and others employed by the Administration, is that the President can't do anything illegal because he's the President, and therefore everything he does is legal. If that kind of Orwellian nut-baggery doesn't scare the crap out of you, you're delusional.

This isn't a partisan issue. This is a fundamental Constitutional issue. They have advanced the argument that the President is, by the nature of his office, above the law. And that is, simply, tyranny.

It was wrong for the Bush Administration to wiretap Americans without a warrant. If the Obama Administration continues to do that -- which they've shown surprising willingness to do -- then they are just as wrong, and it is just as inimical to the integrity of the Constitution. You don't fuck with the separation of powers, no matter whether there's a D or an R after your name.

They're burning the village to save it, SP, and you're cheering it on. Come on, man, this isn't about partisanship -- torturing people is wrong, period, full stop. Trying to put the President above the law is wrong, full stop. I can't believe you can call yourself a conservative and not see that! Doesn't it make you afraid to think that Barack Obama could raid the Heritage Foundation HQ, take them off to extraterritorial camps, and torture them into admitting whatever he wants, with them having no recourse to habeus corpus or legal representation or anything else, simply because the President thinks it's necessary?

It scares me, and Obama's my guy. I don't trust anyone with that much unchecked authority, and I don't give a rat's ass what party he or she belongs to.

The South Plainsman said...

Jeff, I will take one more swing at it. You want to send people to jail for what you honestly believe was torture.

The Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department is mostly, if not entirely, composed of carreer employees and is non partisan.

The CIA and others had clearance from the OLC that the methods theywere using were legal. Therefore to pusish those people would not be appropriate. I suspect that that is what Obama has found.

Now if you think they should be illegal, then get your Democratic majority in Congress to make it illegal. That is fine, if they will. I suspect they would rather talk about how horrible Bush was and keep the tactics available for continued use.

I would point out that war is not a sport with Marquie of Queensbury rules. People out there are trying to kill as many Americans, including you, as they can. We cannot expect to protect ourselves by treating them daintily.

Jeff Hebert said...

SP, I agree that the front-line guys who were given clearance by the OLC should not be prosecuted. They got bad advice. The OLC is SUPPOSED to be non-partisan, yes, that was always its role. But the Bush Administration changed that. The OLC stopped being a more or less outside advisory agency dedicated to making sure the executive branch stayed within the law, and became a mechanism for justifying whatever the Bush Administration wanted justified.

The arguments they made were abominable. I've seen those memos described by con law profs as "F minus" material, as completely specious.

I'm not a lawyer, but even as a layman reading it I can see that the reasoning they use is bogus. They pretty much admit as much, saying right there in their own brief that these same techniques have been used in other countries, and that we called it torture then.

I don't want the front-line guys prosecuted. I want the people who requested those briefs with the intent to justify torture, and I want the people who wrote them.

Here's why.

They made us less safe. Using torture is not "getting tough", it's getting stupid. Beyond the moral reasons (which as a Christian I would expect to be important to you), beyond the legal reasons (clearly the techniques authorized in these memos were torture as defined in the Geneva Conventions and in the anti-torture accords to which we are assignees), beyond the fact that circumventing our legal obligations guts the Constitution, beyond all of that ....

it made us less safe.

We used techniques that were developed not to extract valid information, but to get false confessions. And that's what we got. We wasted time following fake leads because somebody in Washington watched too much "24".

Furthermore when we now try to tell the wider Muslim world that we are a nation of laws, that we come to bring peace, that we offer a BETTER way of life than base savagery, they dismiss it as propaganda, because they've seen what we're "really" about -- torture, just like Saddam Hussein. We managed to invade a country and then act pretty much like the guy we kicked out.

So we traded away our soft power, our moral authority, our system of laws, the separation of powers, the principle of the rule of law, habeus corpus, and our right to demand our prisoners be treated civilly for less than nothing.

If, as you say, all you care about is results, then you ought to be leading the lynch mob. These Mayberry Machiavellis adopted the tools of the enemy and made us less safe in the bargain.

Ben Franklin said it best: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." And that's exactly what the incompetent and morally bankrupt Bush Administration gave us -- neither.

The South Plainsman said...

My last word: you are treatinjg those terrorists as the moral equivalents of our citizens. There is a big difference.

Jeff Hebert said...

SP, first of all they're human beings. The rights in the Constitution are not just granted to citizens, they're inalienable human rights that are simply being recognized.

Second, American citizens were tortured in all of this as well. As were citizens of allied countries like Britain.

Finally, if you have a secret set of prisons operating under a secret set of rules overseen by executive fiat with no possibility of review by any outside agency, you've got yourself a big problem.

You can't just give your executive the power to snatch anyone he likes, for any reason he likes, sequester them away in a hidden prison for as long as he likes, using whatever torture techniques he likes, all without any oversight or rights for the imprisoned at all.

But that's what we've got. And it's intolerable for any country that considers itself a democracy. We're America, dammit, we don't do things that way!

The South Plainsman said...

Jeff, I wasn't going to respond any more, but have to.

Those people are NOT entitled to our Constitutional rights. They are foreign enemies that at best are entitled to rights under the Geneva Convention.

Now if you are talking about American citizens, I would agree with you. But foreign nationals trying to attack American citizens are just not entitled to those rights. Ever.

If they want to earn such rights by being honorable citizens of the world, then fine. But as long as they are trying to kill us, they have no rights. Period.

Anonymous said...

Hey!!! Good going SP. At what point does a malicious enemy have the same rights as a U.S. citizen. We can play the good ole boy for so long, but then we have to look at who was wrongly maligned to begin with.
The enemy captives were sent to Gitmo to keep them available for information that they could give ,without 'breaking' the law that only exists in the minds of opportunistic few that think that they are Constitutional wizards. If you check close enough,the same characteristic is being pushed by the illegal aliens and their supporters.
The Constitution has become nothing more than a scratch pad to many liberals here who take the oath of office to protect and follow the words written in it.
Wow! Maybe if we retake the gun issue from the right, then we don't really have to obey the Constitution The public will have no power to do anything about it.
Get real Jeff! The things we are doing to our enemy,such as not giving them a Koran,plus numerous things that our people who are captured would be beaten 3/4 to death, if not all the way.
If you think that because we treat our enemy combatants in a way you don't approve, that their leaders will suddenly make nice,then you need to drink,not only the kool-aid,but eat the glass it came in.
Get a grip Herb, your ship just got hijacked.--Goose

Jeff Hebert said...

So let's say you're right, that non-Americans are sub-human and unworthy of the same kind of fundamental human rights you and I take for granted. Let's say only Americans are exempt from the kind of treatment we're talking about.

The problem is, it's happened to Americans, too. Jose Padilla, a US citizen, was taken on US soil, solely on the word of the President, put into the military tribunal system as an enemy combatant. No right of habeas corpus so he could question the terms of his abduction. No recourse to the regular US legal system. No access to an attorney. No way for anyone to know if he lived or died, was guilty or innocent, except the word of the officials of the executive branch.

And while in US military custody, he was subjected to torture. An American citizen. One of the class of privileged few, according to you, who qualify as having rights.

That's the problem. When you start doing this kind of thing, when you vest that much power in one man, with no checks and balances, there's no way to know where it's going to stop.

Do YOU have that much faith that our government can get it right, more often than not? That government officials can be trusted to do the right thing without some sort of system of checks and balances?

This isn't a hypothetical. This isn't some deranged Bush-hating liberal conspiracy theory. It's already happened, to American citizens, on US soil. All of these fundamental rights you argue are the exclusive province of our countrymen, tossed out without a thought on the judgment of one man, with zero accountability.

If that's not the definition of tyranny, I don't know what is. It's wrong, it's dangerous, it's illegal, it's immoral, it's heinous, it's despicable, it's anti-American, and it's something that needs to be stopped and never allowed to happen again. It should not have happened under Bush, and if it happens under Obama I'll be just as vociferous. That's too much power to vest in one branch, in one man. No one is worthy of it, no matter what party they're from.

Jeff Hebert said...

Goosestepper said:

the law that only exists in the minds of opportunistic few that think that they are Constitutional wizards. This isn't complicated. We are signatories to a treaty, ratified by the US Senate, that says we will not torture anyone, for any reason. We tortured people, including at least one US citizen.

Duly signed international treaties are the law of the land.

It's right there in the Constitution, plain as day. Article VI, paragraph 2:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the LandJiminy Christmas, this ain't rocket science, people. You don't get to make up any old crap you want about the Constitution. It's right there in black and white.

We signed the treaty, the Senate ratified it, end of story. Torturing people is illegal, period.

You can argue it's a stupid treaty. You can argue that breaking it was for the greater good and so we should let it slide. You can argue that the Supremacy Clause is stupid and should be repealed.

But you can't sit there and claim that it doesn't exist, or it's some kind of left-wing fantasy.

Cripes, I thought Republicans were supposed to be the ones who thought the Constitution was a GOOD thing that we ought to, you know, respect and cherish. I thought Christians were supposed to be the ones who were all about non-violence and turning the other cheek.

And yet the only one on here claiming that the Constitution matters enough to actually follow, and that torturing people -- fucking TORTURING people! -- is, you know, a BAD THING, is an atheist Democrat.

Welcome to Bizarro World.

George Phenix said...

This is beginning to sound familiar. Yes. Remember in Spain when the clergy and the courts racked folks up? We called it the Inquisition. How did that work out?

This discussion is stimulating and frightening. For both sides. Keep whacking if you want to but nobody is going to change the other guy’s mind. We can’t, I believe, because our brains are hard-wired by genetics and reinforced by life experiences. We live in different centers of gravity.

For the record, I agree with Jeff. No surprise.

Anonymous said...

To go back to your initial argument, Jeff, Obama hopefully will hear and heed that Franklin quote, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." The Bush administration disgraced us all, whether some of us recognize it or not. Or can ever bring themselves to admit it. I hope Obama can and will give us reason to hold our heads higher about this shameful chapter in our history. MW

The South Plainsman said...

Well, George. At least we got you some views. LOL

Keep it up.

sph said...

In any other country one of you could probably be subject to torture for the opinions expressed so clearly here.

Oops, forget, people were tortured on our soil and no deterring threat of punishment for the perpetrators in this administration.

I'm going back to my ducks.....

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