Thursday, April 16, 2009

Political Expediency

I wrote earlier about John Demjanjuk and the efforts to extradite him to face war crimes charges in Germany. Today, President Obama has declared that he won't prosecute those involved in torture. And it is torture we are talking about especially waterboarding. Four CIA memos have been released, all of which detail activity that this country has protested as torture. Well, maybe not the insect part, that was a new one for me.

He wants to assure our CIA personnel that they can do their jobs, relying on the orders they were given by CIA and White House leadership. As I recall, the defense used by some WWII war criminals, "I was just following orders," didn't cut them much slack at their trials. The purveyors of those orders described in the memos are apparently off the hook too, which I think is really criminal.

On the other hand, perhaps we should thank our President for exposing American hypocrisy in its condemnation of other countries using those very same techniques. Most of us who consider ourselves politically sophisticated know that politics combines the art of the possible as well as the art of compromise. However there must be a baseline for principles that cannot and will not be compromised. This country apparently has no such baseline anymore, at least where torture is concerned. Bush/Cheney erased it and Obama appears unwilling to reinstate it, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. He says we no longer do such stuff, but steadfastly refuses to hold American perpetrators of torture accountable, let alone their political and legal leadership. The Department of Justice is investigating potential violations of professional responsibilities. I can hardly wait to see how that comes out.

I recall that President Nixon believed that the Office of the President is pretty much above the law. If the President OKs it, or does it, it's legal. It would seem that point of view survived his death up to and including this Presidency.

This is not change I can believe in. That said, at the very least President Obama ought to be willing to show some compassion and offer clemency to a sick 89 year old man in a wheelchair. It might just balance the books a bit given today's announcement.

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