On October 4, 2007, Scott Shane, David Johnston and James Risen disclosed in a front page New York Times article that although the Bush Administration had made public statements against torture, secret memos written by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel had actually authorized torture:
When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.
But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.
Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.
Presidential Candidate Barack Obama responded quickly to this revelation, releasing the following statement the very same day:
"The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer – it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach. Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence. Torture is how you set back America’s standing in the world, not how you strengthen it. It’s time to tell the world that America rejects torture without exception or equivocation. It’s time to stop telling the American people one thing in public while doing something else in the shadows. No more secret authorization of methods like simulated drowning. When I am president America will once again be the country that stands up to these deplorable tactics. When I am president we won’t work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution, we will be straight with the American people and true to our values," said Obama.
That statement is still present on Obama’s campaign website. He should probably take it down, because it simply is no longer true. He can no longer say that "When I am president we won’t work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution". Many of his actions over the past few weeks have been precisely aimed at avoiding the law and the Constitution.
Why is Obama now delaying the release of the most damaging of the OLC torture memos, if it is not to avoid prosecutions of those who authorized these atrocities?
Why would Obama’s DOJ make a filing in a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that makes state secrets claims that go beyond any such claims by the Bush DOJ unless it is to continue to violate Constitutional protections against illegal surveillance?
President Obama needs to escape the "Washington bubble" and take some time to re-read some of his positions taken during the campaign. That presidential candidate, running as a Constitutional law professor, ignited the passions of many of us who were the most upset by Bush’s trashing of the Constitution and our country’s moral standing.
Obama is facing issues of historic importance. They cannot be handled by a "middle road" approach as if they were a neighborhood zoning dispute. Very few issues rise to the Manichean level of pure goodness or pure evil, but torture is one of those. There is no such thing as a little bit of torture or torture lite.
As Obama said in that press release, "Torture is how you set back America’s standing in the world, not how you strengthen it." But more importantly, he offered a bit of advice which he should now follow: "When I am president we won’t work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution, we will be straight with the American people and true to our values."
Really, Mr. President?
You have made public promises to close Guantanamo, yet there are reports that abuse there is worse since you have taken over the Presidency.
Your actions recently have been on the side of allowing torture to continue and to go unpunished while the government hides its illegal acts behind claims of state secrets. Tell us again how you are going to change that. Tell us again how "It’s time to stop telling the American people one thing in public while doing something else in the shadows", because that sure looks like what you are doing.