Jesurgislac’s Journal

April 8, 2009

Obama: for or against torture?

It would appear that President Obama has till May 11 to decide whether he does, in fact, actually oppose the US military torturing prisoners… or if he would just rather not know what the US military does to prisoners.

On May 11, Clive Stafford Smith, Binyam Mohamed’s lawyer, director of Reprieve, will appear in court to be charged with the crime of telling President Barack Obama that the Privilege Review Board had redacted the whole of a memo Smith wrote to Obama describing Binyam Mohamed’s treatment in Guantanamo Bay. (See Glenn Greenwald’s interview on Salon Radio.)

For that crime, Smith may spend up to six months in jail: that is, for the crime of telling the President of the United States that a secret committee in the Pentagon did not want him to know exactly what had been done to Binyam Mohamed.

Obama’s preference with regard to torture is clearly and explicitly to do nothing – that was unfortunately clear from November 22, when he announced he would keep George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense in the position he had held for two years. That’s an improvement on the pro-torture policies of the Bush administration, certainly – as King Log is better than King Stork.

But merely deciding to do nothing – neither to authorise torture techniques, nor take steps to prevent ongoing torture (prisoners were still being tortured at Guantanamo Bay in February this year, as Binyam Mohamed – and the doctors who examined him on his return to the UK – can testify), nor to prosecute those who committed torture with President Bush’s authorisation – is a complex balancing act, absolutely dependent on no one pushing.

Many Americans who objected to torture under Bush appear content now to not push – not to ask why Obama did not act to stop torture at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere as from January 21, not to ask why Obama is not setting in motion an investigation of torture under Bush, not to ask why the current Secretary of Defense, who may be implicated in the torture of prisoners under Bush, has been allowed to retain his position into Obama’s administration.

It’s true: Obama is so much better a President and a man than Bush that it’s actually hard to compare them: and the US and the rest of the world dodged a bullet when McCain lost so comprehensively last November. (Two bullets, in fact: President Palin.)

But because Obama is so much better than Bush, he should be pushed harder. Now it’s come down to a decision Obama has to make: is he going to take the position that people should be prosecuted and jailed for telling him about prisoners being tortured by the US – and let that happen to Clive Stafford Smith and others at Reprieve? Is he going to ask to read the unredacted memo? Is he going to begin the investigation of torture in the US military that should have begun in 2004?

May 11th. Obama has a deadline.

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