American Culture

President Obama thinks you’re sanctimonious for insisting torturers be charged with felonies

The President of the United States still shows no signs of seeking justice against war criminals

The President of the United States, by way of giving the world a Friday heading into the weekend presser in hopes that we’ll miss it and just ignore it to death, finally leveled exactly the kind of allegations we’ve been waiting for for six years now. Then he clarified his position by saying that we shouldn’t be sanctimonious, but let’s see it in his own stammering words:

I understand why it happened. Uh, I, I think, ah, ih-, it’s important, uh, when we look back to recall how afraid people were, uh, after, uh, the tow-, twin towers, uh, fell, and, and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know, ah, whether more attacks were imminent, uh, and there was enormous pressure, uh, on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this, uh, and um, hyuh, i-, i-, i-, it’s important for us not to, uh, feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those have and a lot of those folks, uh, wuh, uh, were s-, s-, working hard, ah, under enormous pressure, and are real patriots but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that repor-port reflects, and that’s the reason why, after, uh, I took office one of the first things I did was to ban, uh, some of the, in-, extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.


Ordinarily, when I hear comments on the president along the lines of him being “unpresidential,” I scoff. These usually come from the same wits that have trouble with him putting his feet up on the same desk George W. Bush put his feet on, as well as presidents before him. But to watch this presser is just painful. A president often noted for his lofty rhetoric was utterly lacking in it today. A president that usually boldly faces the cameras could hardly keep his eyes to the folks this side of the podium. And the stammering, oh, God, the stammering. Yes, this is weighty material, and it is long overdue, and, by his own admission, this is the reason why one of the first things he did on taking office was to ban some of the “extraordinary interrogation techniques,” and for being that familiar with it, couldn’t bring himself to address the nation boldly, at a time when we’d be paying attention, in a manner befitting the President of the United States.

And why should I be surprised? To read those words, to watch that video is, I should hope, to be aghast. Torture was wrong, but it was understandable, you see. People were afraid, you see, after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon was hit, and Flight 93, which couldn’t be addressed in anything but the most generic of terms as that “plane in Pennsylvania” which “had fallen.” Fear makes torture, well, not okay, per se, but we’d be sanctimonious to seek justice for it. Because people were afraid. For crying out loud!

I totally get torture. Fear made it an okay mistake.

Were the people fearful? I don’t know about you, but I was in DC the day it happened. That morning, the commute on the red line was as normal and dull as any I’d ever had, until I got to Union Station and the platform was a frenzy of confused people being ushered out at a brisk pace while a commanding voice over the station intercom instructed everyone, without reason, to evacuate the building immediately. This was alarming. Making my way from the dim light to the bright morning light outside only to be greeted with jersey barriers that hadn’t been there just yesterday and troops on the ground bearing arms, and people milling about like lost ants, this was alarming. Going into, against the flow of people rushing out, the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building and flashing my ID to a confused guard was just odd. Arriving at the office I worked in only to be met with a quizzical, “what are you doing here?” was puzzling. I had no idea. So I watched it on the television. And again. And again.

I felt concern. My significant other was a few miles away in class. How would she get home? I called her family. “Don’t worry. We’re on it. You get home safely.” A long walk to the Rhode Island station later, and I was back on a running train and home again, to watch the news. Again. And again. And again. I felt stunned.

For days following, what brought tears to my eyes were the heartfelt expressions of sympathy and support shared with America from people around the world, even from places we had come to think of as “the enemy,” as though places are enemies, and not the people, scratch that, some of the people in that place. We were never to think  of the enemy as only some of the people in those places. And here were the other some, expressing their pain and sadness for and with us.

I didn’t feel fear. I felt awake. I started paying attention. Were other people afraid? I’m sure some were. But we were enjoined by the people in power to remain calm, and by all means, do not stop consuming! If you stop spending, the terrorists have won!

At the same time, whatever the people felt, like anyone in power has ever given half a shit about the people, we expect the people who run the show, both behind and in front of the curtain, to be a great many things by turns, but not fearful. The people who ordered torture, the people who justified torture, the people who passed the order to torture down the chain of command, all the way down to the lowly schmucks who fail to understand the obligation to uphold the Constitution and obey only lawful orders, every last swingin’ dick of them needs to be identified and charged for juries to decide the matter once and for all. That. Is. Justice.

And that is one of the things that most galls me in this stammering, sputtering horrorshow of a presidential speech. Not only was torture understandable because people were afraid, he completely and totally derails all notions of direct accountability. Law enforcement, you see, and our “national security teams,” they were working hard, they were under enormous pressure. I don’t remember being terribly concerned about those nameless, faceless hard-working and enormously pressured LEO’s and “national security teams” (what, no mention of the heroic first responders on whom we’ve long since turned our backs?) when the drums started beating immediately for war. I remember being most assuredly concerned by President Bush, by name, by Vice President Dick Cheney, by name, by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, by name, by Secretary of State Colin Powell, by name, and by the army of political hacks and flaks from The Washington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC, and so on, and so on, beating, beating, beating the drums for a war against a nation that didn’t directly attack us, and then another, and no mention being made of any plans to send an assault team of any size or specialization against Saudi Arabia, home of 15 of the 19 terrorists who killed over 3,000 people on our soil in broad daylight for the all the world to see, exactly as intelligence had indicated would be attempted.

I remember feeling gall. I remember feeling righteous anger. I remember feeling betrayed by the government. And I remember feeling betrayed by a national media juggernaut that was hellbent on calling anyone who dared question the official script “un-American.”

And here we are. Now I’m sanctimonious. I don’t think I have ever been as dismayed at an American president as I am right now. The raw, rank disrespect I feel and continue to feel for Bush and Cheney pale by comparison.

Worse, I’m choking on some really bitter fucking irony right now. The House, under GOP leadership, has now authorized Speaker of the House John Boehner, he of passing political contributions out on the House floor fame, much to his permanent shame, if he had any at all, which he clearly doesn’t, to sue President Obama for, in part, and get this, it’s a laugh riot, failing to enforce the law, to wit, the ACA, which they have tried to repeal repeatedly at millions of dollars of taxpayer expense.

So I have a challenge for you, GOP and Speaker Boehner. By all means, sue the president. He has it coming. Hell, introduce articles of impeachment. You’ve got him dead to rights on the Bergdahl transfer without the 30-day Congressional notification required by law. Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein has said as much. And I will cheer you on every step of the way. With one little, teeny, weeny, itsy, bitsy, catch. Force the President to enforce the law against torture. Demand an independent investigation, predicated on the Senate report about which the President spoke today, and predicated on the president’s own grave allegation of torture, notwithstanding his absolute spinelessness and the sheer unmitigated gall of calling true, patriotic, justice-loving Americans sanctimonious. Force him to enforce the law so we can finally bring the gang of war criminals from the Bush administration to justice, once and for all.

Forget the wild dog-whistling hoots and hollers from the right deriding the president at every turn for ever tiny slight, real or imagined, as well as some doozies. The left needs to rise up in the face of today’s national embarrassment and demand justice. And while we’re at it, we’d do well to demand that justice by contacting our Congresscomplicitycritters. They have known of this, and not one, not Warren, not Sanders, not Feinstein, not Pelosi, not Udall, not Franken, not Wasserman-Schultz, have, to my knowledge, put pressure on President Obama to enforce the law against torture. Not a single fucking one. Even our best, even our last shreds of hope in Congress, have been complicit in our national shame. To the extent that we let them remain silent, we share in that shame.

We either fix this, or truth, justice, and the American way are gone. Dead. Dust. Forever ridden off into the sunset with Roy and Dale and Tonto and the Lone Ranger, just three more myths to tell our kids about from back in the good old days that never were.


Image credit: Nope by fPat Murray @ Licensed under Creative Commons. Waterboarding by Salim Virji @ Licensed under Creative Commons.

9 replies »

  1. Obama actually calls those who ordered and engaged in torture “patriots.” Patriots! He profanes the word.

    So now according to the man I worked so very hard to campaign for, even travelled across states lines to campaign for (I knocked on doors for him in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida, stayed in a cheap hotel room in Florida for a full week before election day at my own expense, knocking on doors from dawn to dusk for a solid week, so dedicated to the task at hand that my canvassing partners actually had to remind me to stop and eat something) I am “SANCTIMONIOUS” in demanding that now that he has formally admitted to the word torture that prosecutions commence and justice be served? This is my president, very much so, the man I loved and believed in so much that when he was officially declared the next president of my country, I literally sank to my knees crying with joy, telling me I am sanctimonious for demanding justice? How dare he. My S.O. has been so bitterly disappointed in Obama for so long now. While I too am deeply disappointed, I have always told him, “Well, I still like the guy, just personally.” But this is the last straw even for me. He has called me sanctimonious for demanding that CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY be prosecuted! Now I can’t even say I like the guy anymore, which was honestly all I had left. After my ex-husband, Obama is now officially the second greatest human disappointment of my entire life. In fact, Obama will function in my political life just as my ex-husband functions in my love life – I will simply never again be the same naïve, trusting soul that I once was. Thank you for that bitter legacy, Mr. President.

    • This is one of those cases where I really, desperately hoped to be wrong. But I wasn’t.

      Okay, check that. The honest fact is that I predicted he was going to be the corporatist whore he’s always been, but even I didn’t expect such a disgraceful performance on issues like this one. And anytime a politician manages to underperform MY low expectations, well, that’s a special moment.

      • Well, Sam, you were 100% right. I was actually one of the true believers and so for me, it has been quite a painful ride. As I said, I will never again believe in anyone like I did Obama. It was all b.s., just so many pretty words. The only comfort I can find in it all now is that an African-American man has been president, not that it’s done anything else that’s positive for African-Americans. I have heard that the Obama presidency has meant much for the aspirations of African-American children (yeah, you can make it too, just become a corporatist whore). I’ve heard that it has meant much to African-American children to see on the photos of American presidents that line their classroom walls one face that is the color of their own. Where I live is a pretty much an all white town in rural Montana, so I don’t currently have any African-American friends I can hear from about Obama. I know of some high profile African-Americans like Cornel West who bitterly criticize Obama and I know others like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who defend him no matter what (perhaps out of a well-intended desire to see our first black president succeed). I find myself ignorant of what average African-American men and women on the street might be saying. Starting first thing tomorrow morning, I am going to make it a point to seek out more African-American blogs and media because I think before I write Obama off absolutely 100%, I should at least be better informed about what his legacy means to African-Americans (obviously that will vary widely, as do opinions among ANY people, but I definitely need to get better informed about what’s out there).

  2. Wow. That is amazing – boy, were you ever spot on with that one! I never thought, before Obama, that I would see a person of color president in my lifetime. I think that the political system is rigged in such a way that only women and people of color who have sold out to the megagroupthinkcorptocracy have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected. I mean, will we ever, for example, see an African-American man who calls for slavery reparations get elected? Nope! Will we ever see a woman who calls for demilitarization and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment get elected? Nope! And since you mentioned electing a person of color or a woman president, that brings me to Hillary Clinton, who has gotten where she is by being every bit as awful as the men around her, which is, again, how the system functions. Hillary Clinton is a subject that currently causes a great rift within feminism. There are liberal feminists, especially older ones like my aunt and mother, who very much would like to see a Hillary presidency. They are open about the fact that they would just like to have a woman president before they die. Then there are radical feminists like me who say what’s the point in having the WRONG woman elected president just so we can say we did it. Still, we radical feminists must function within the realm of reality here – I know that no woman whose views are anything like my own stands a chance of even being elected local sewer manager, let alone president. So, it is worth it to have a female president – like Hillary – just to shatter that glass ceiling? Or do we wait probably hundreds more years working and hoping for a political environment that welcomes a true feminist to Washington? As I said, the question currently greatly divides feminists. The last thing radical feminist Andrea Dworkin wrote before she died was a scathing criticism of Hillary Clinton. Dworkin accused Clinton of being complicit in rape and sexual harassment by joining with her husband to publicly and viciously attack his many accusers. It’s called “Are You Listening Hillary? President Rape is Who He Is.” Here is the link to that piece, just in case you’re interested:

    Since you have been so spot on all along, I’d be curious to know your thoughts. Are we doing something good in breaking glass ceilings just for the sake of having done so, or is it more like “meet the new boss, same as the old boss?”

    • Well, yes and no. Electing women and minorities is a positive signal in that it makes clear that we’re working past – slowly, I know – racism and sexism of the sort that locked down ALL opportunity in the past. This is a good thing.

      But it’s a mixed bag when those folks are disillusioning. Worse, when the Rush Limbaughs of the world can get hold of a bad example and use that person as a (heavily coded, of course) example of why wimmin and darkies need to be kept in their place.

      It’s a very long war, and sadly it has these one step forward/two steps back moments. The problem is the system, but you can’t fix the system as long s the system is in charge of fixing the system. I told a friend the other night that the only real solution might involve heads being paraded around the city on pikes….

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