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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/20/09

Obama, Blair, and Panetta praise the moral cowards, ignore the true heroes

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It turned out to be harder than I expected to find the complete texts of the statements made by President Obama, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and CIA Director Leon Panetta on Thursday as the Office of Legal Council torture memos were being released. Thanks to Spencer Ackerman, I have located them and post them here.

I must say that, reading these in their entirety, they are as chilling as the memos themselves. While the memos describe the torture program in meticulous, bureaucratic detail -- including the temperature of water to be used to chill people, and the length and number of waterboarding episodes permitted per day -- the statements from our President and two of his top officials heap praise upon those who were all too willing to sacrifice their morals and decency in pursuit of this horrific program.

To proclaim the torturers as heroes and to thank them for committing horrors is to spit in the face of those who suffered from this program of state-sponsored torture, not just from the CIA, but the thousands who experienced this program's derivative programs at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan. These statements also poke a finger in the eyes of all those human rights advocates and simply decent people who for years fought against this and related programs of state-sponsored abuse.

And, perhaps most disturbingly, to absolve and convey hero status to those who shelved their consciences is an insult to the true heroes of this sordid chapter in our history, the many men and women in our military and our government who refused to go along and protested and fought against these acts of state-sponsored horror. For the interrogators who gave up careers spanning decades out of shame over what their profession was being turned into, the JAGs who fought the development of this policy and risked scorn in defending the "worst of the worst," the prosecutors who denounced the concealing of abuse in the highly politicized trials at Guantanamo, again at the cost of careers, and those officials like Albert Mora who took seriously their obligation to defend the Constitution are real heroes. These are the individuals who deserve the praise of our leaders and our people.

We can continue to debate what type of accountability there should be for the guards, interrogators, doctors and psychologists who implemented these policies. But they are not heroes. They are not people to be thanked. They are not people who did their best in the difficult circumstances after 911. They are at best sad human beings who went along with authority when their nation needed them to refuse, individuals without a moral compass, examples to be held up as an example to our children of what they must do their best not to become. They are no better, perhaps even worse, than the rightly scorned MPs of Abu Ghraib.



Despite the political courage it took to release these documents, the leaders who issued these statements praising the CIA agents of torture are ultimately moral cowards, afraid to tell the public what it needs to hear. They represent, not the change we need, but the stability that makes future state-sanctioned abuses all the more likely.


To the Men and Women of CIA:

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the work you are doing for the country. Your work has informed every President dating back to President Truman and it protects our people. I have come to rely on your service and I believe strongly that it is vital to the security of our country. Given the threats, challenges, and opportunities facing America, the CIA remains as critical today as it has ever been to our Nation’s security. While necessity requires that the country may not know all of your names or the work that you do, all of us enjoy the freedom that you have helped secure.

I also wanted to share with you a decision that I made last night. Later today, the Department of Justice will release certain memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005. I did not make this decision lightly. As you may know, the release is part of an ongoing court case. I have fought for the principle that the United States must carry out covert activities and hold information that is classified for the purposes of national security and will do so again in the future. But the release of these memos is required by our commitment to the rule of law.

Much of the information contained in the memos has been in the public domain, and the previous Administration has acknowledged portions of the program – and some of the practices – associated with them. My judgment on this is a matter of record. I have prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques, and I reject the false choice between our security and our ideals.

In releasing these memos, the men and women of the CIA have assurances from both myself, and from Attorney General Holder, that we will protect all who acted reasonably and relied upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that their actions were lawful. The Attorney General has assured me that these individuals will not be prosecuted and that the Government will stand by them.

The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. They need to be fully confident that as they defend the Nation, I will defend them. We will protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security.

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. The national greatness that you so courageously and capably uphold is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence.

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Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)
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