Posts Tagged ‘Obama Administration’
First, a brief reminder of how the Bush administration handled the crime of torture. Let’s call it “the few bad apples excuse.”
Yesterday, Wednesday, April 13, 2009 was a sad day for the Obama administration. The President decided to reverse his administration’s pledge to release photographs of acts of torture committed by Americans, photos that could be used as further evidence of how widespread state sanctioned torture had been under Bush. But it was not his decision to hold back the photos that was patently reprehensible. Obama argued that the release of the photographs could endanger our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and whether one agrees with this assessment or not, it has to be taken seriously. What is not acceptable, and what is not worthy of this president, is to suggest that those who committed these acts were only a small number of individuals. Once again this places the onus on those who actually carried out the acts as opposed to the leaders who ordered and sanctioned them. In other words, Obama used a version of the “bad apples excuse” to support his decision, which is just what the Bush administration did when the photos of Abu Ghraib first appeared
The New York Times reported on the president’s press conference announcing his decision in an article, “Obama Moves to Bar Release of Detainee Abuse Photos.” Two excerpts:
“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,” Mr. Obama told reporters on the South Lawn. “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.” (emphasis added)
The article then went on to quote a spokesman from the A.C.L.U.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., said the decision to fight the release of the photos was a mistake. He said officials had described them as “worse than Abu Ghraib” and said their volume, more than 2,000 images, showed that “it is no longer tenable to blame abuse on a few bad apples. These were policies set at the highest level.”
It’s not clear what Obama’s tactics are here. He is well aware of the previous administration’s culpability. Perhaps he has decided that keeping his hands clean and letting Congress handle the torture investigation is the path of least resistance, one that will allow him to pursue more important matters. But this maneuver doesn’t require him to assert the few bad apples excuse. The question is why he decided to make this specious argument. And he made it on the very same day that he said the following during commencement at Arizona State.
“In recent years, in many ways, we’ve become enamored with our own success, lulled into complacency by our own achievements,” he said, citing the economic crisis. “We started taking shortcuts. We started living on credit, instead of building up savings. We saw businesses focus more on rebranding and repackaging than innovating and developing new ideas that improve our lives.” New York Times, May 13, 2009, “Work Is Never Done, Obama Tells Class”
Read these words and think about Obama’s actions yesterday. Read these words and think about some of the “shortcuts” that he has been taking. (See Andrew Sullivan’s article, “The Fierce Urgency Of Whenever,” on Obama’s backsliding on the treatment of gays.) Read these words and think about the Obama brand. And ask, who is Barack Obama really speaking about when he speaks about repackaging? Rhetorical flourishes are not going to provide him with cover if there is too great a disjunction between his words, his other words, and his deeds.
Yes, Obama cannot be expected to remake the U.S. in a 100 days. The question is whether there is a misguided expediency at work, one in which the shortest path is assumed to be established lines in the sand.
We cannot let this slogan become merely a slogan. As per Obama’s request, we will remind him, hound him, when his rudder may need some work.
The last two posts on UP@NIGHT have addressed the issue of torture. Today we learn, according to a New York Times article, that incompetence and ignorance led the Bush administration down the path of torture. The article is a must read. There is an excerpt below. I will say that it raises as many questions as it answers; for example. how could the moral imagination and understanding of our leaders be so impoverished that they were prepared simply to heed the words of so-called experts, without asking probing questions and paying attention to what could be called common sense? (I mean, certain actions seem like torture….it doesn’t take a rocket scientist.) Or how about, are the proposed “harsh” methods really as reliable as other methods? (Opinions from different camps were called for. But instead the advice our leaders wanted to hear, “we’ll get quick results,” was all that was needed to give the green light.)
Of course further investigation may reveal that they were not as ignorant as this article suggests. Time will tell.
By SCOTT SHANE and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: April 21, 2009
WASHINGTON — The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans during military training. How could that be torture?
In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.
This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.
According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.
Adam Smith, on the left, looks through Brooks, while Hegel, on the right, can only think, “Oy.”
Poor David Brooks. You just never know when he is going to get in over his head, and neither does he. One can only marvel at some of the “out of left” field claims and arguments that he has made, while continuing to present himself as the most reasonable man on the planet. Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard to dislike the guy, with his schoolboy enthusiasms and his deferential comments about the brains (specifically, the high SAT scores) of the members of the new administration. And you have to prefer him to Rush.
But sometimes in his desire to show off and create a splash he goes too far. Yesterday, April 7, 2009, was just such a day. Brooks entitled his column in the NY Times, “The End of Philosophy.” If that wasn’t pretentious enough, he then proceeded to tell us how philosophers have spent 2,500 years barking up the wrong tree because scientists have now discovered connections between morality and emotion. (As if this is not an old topic, even in Ethics 101.)
Well, I couldn’t resist a quick response, and it appears that neither could hundreds of others. I am reproducing my comments here (unedited) because it seems that they were recommended by good number of readers, and well, you know, one can never pass up an opportunity to knock David’s books out of his hands, figuratively speaking, that is. His article, The End of Philosophy, is a wonderful example of what happens when one goes into the water before one knows how to swim, believing that one doesn’t have to learn. (Just act naturally.) I recommend it to instructors of philosophy (and writing) as a useful classroom tool. Don’t do as David does, or else…. I recommended it to everyone else as a rewarding screamer.
Oy. I think that we need to talk. I am afraid that you are practicing philosophy without a license, which is okay, up to a point. (First rule: do no harm.) What is striking is how consistent you have been over the years in basically holding to a view of morality that Adam Smith and his followers would fine congenial, especially on cooperation. And then presenting from time to time “new insights” that support this position. (The notion that sympathy is the foundation of our moral sensibilities is certainly a feature of this school.) The one place where this School would have let you down in the past (that is, before you discovered emotion) was your desire to believe that Reason (with a capital R) can be depended on for moral guidance. (More on this below.)
I hope that you will not be offended if I say, your piece needs a bit more work. It is not entirely consistent and cogent, for example, in the way that it leans on emotions and then suddenly takes a turn toward “responsibility” at the end, without any sort of explanation for how the latter relates to the former. (And how are we to understand the development of the responsibility?)
But it also contains some rather bizarre claims, for example,
“Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. Most of us make snap moral judgments about what feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong.”
Are you really claiming the babies make moral judgments? Is any sort of emotional response to be understood as a moral judgment? Is the fact that we can’t explain why we think something is wrong always a failure of reason or a failure to appreciate the ways in which habits and judgments get built up over time? (Not all failures in understanding are failures of reason. I am afraid that you suffer a bit from the jilted lover of reason syndrome. You were a believer and now Reason hasn’t lived up to its billing. So, we jump from Reason to Emotion.)
Much to be said here. But this is only a space for quick comments. I have a suggestion. You might want to take a look a classical American Pragmatism, for it tries to grapple with morality in terms of values without relying on a “traditional” notion of reason. (This may be especially interesting to you, since it can be argued that Obama is a philosophical pragmatist, a topic I have written about, if I can engage in a bit of germane self-promotion.)
— Mitchell Aboulafia, NY
By now I am sure that most of America has heard about the former VP’s outrageous interview with Politico, which has been generously quoted in the MSM. Besides reiterating what every sentient adult American knows, namely, that it is possible that there will be a serious terrorist strike in the U.S. in the next few years, Dr. Doom tried to set the stage for the blaming the attack on the Obama administration. “When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry.” Politico
This nonsense is from a man whose war in Iraq and torture policies have in all likelihood created more terrorists than all of the combined recruiting techniques used by Al Qaeda. He has made us less safe and decent in oh so many ways. But just as my fury was reaching unspeakable heights, I heard about a rather amazing turn of events. The Obama Administration plans to use Dr. Doom’s “expertise” in a thoroughly new fashion. They are creating a department of soothsayers made up of individuals who claim to have powers that allow them to leap over historical realities in single bounds. Cheney will direct this group of Jeremiahs. He plans to use his gifts in reading bird entrails, especially ones that he has shot, to help educate his comrades.
Obama it seems is way ahead of us on this one. It turns out that those of us who have been hypercritical of Dick have not realized that he has been suffering for years from a rather rare syndrome that leads him to believe that he has prophetic powers. His pacemaker, which was implanted several years back, suffers from a serious defect. It produces a low frequency audio pulse to the Thermonuclear region of the Hiffocampus. (It goes softly “boom” about every 18 minutes.) This results in behavior that is hard to separate from that of sociopaths, especially in terms of their tendency to lose sight of the differences between truth and lies, right and wrong. So, yes, Cheney has been a pathological liar, but for an understandable reason. Unfortunately the pacemaker cannot be removed without creating the possibility that the patient might suffer from an overload of guilt and remorse, which could lead to suicide. And his doctor’s oath, unlike Cheney’s own as VP, requires that he do no harm.
The Obama administration’s plan to make Cheney Director of the Cassandra Complex is an elegant solution to the problem of Cheney. As you may recall, even when Cassandra was telling the truth about the future, she was fated to not be heeded. Cheney can now spend the rest of his days, along with a bevy of sociopaths, feeling good about the fact that they know the future but no one will listen to them.
Here is a model of their new building, right off the Mall in D.C. The design goes back to Bentham. (And since, needless to say, no one can really know what the future holds in store, this is a good place to store folks like this.)