Saturday, April 18, 2009

Controversy over the Release of the Bush-Era Torture Memos

On April 16, the Obama administration released four secret memos detailing detainee treatment under the Bush administration. Simultaneously, the president pledged not to prosecute the US intelligence officials who were involved in those activities.

This is clearly a compromise that truly pleases no one, but it demonstrates President Obama's deft skill in the art of political negotiation. Republicans didn't want the memos released at all, but are relieved that the President agreed to take prosecution off the table by stating, "At a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

On the other side of the political spectrum, the ACLU is dissatisfied by the compromise, stating, ""Enforcing the nation's laws should not be a political decision."

I cheer the release of the memos. For me, this half of the announcement is the easy one. There was never any valid excuse to make the memos secret, as there was never any justification for the acts the memos describe. The other half of the announcement, the decision not to prosecute for the acts of torture, is the difficult part.

So who's right and who's wrong regarding the decision not to prosecute? Ooops, wrong question. By my own sense of moral behavior, the ACLU is right on target. Immoral acts and crimes against the laws of the United States were committed. But that's not a workable and practical answer. If President Obama had held to that position, he would have created a pitched partisan battle that would have destroyed his ability to get Republican acceptance of any of his appointees or his agenda.

So was the compromise worthwhile? In my opinion, yes. While my sense of justice demands punishment for the guilty, my desire for at least a modicum of bipartisan agreement on the future of our country trumps the value of prosecutions. So, very reluctantly, I endorse President Obama's decision to compromise and forgo prosecution of those who carried out the torture.

Unfortunately, the President's decision is going to weaken his support among his most ardent and idealistic supporters. They expect and demand that he hold fire to the feet of all those of the previous administration who broke the law. Will that hue and cry quiet soon? Probably not. How soon unappreciative Liberals forget the vast improvements we have already seen under President Obama, including the January 22 Executive order that reversed the Bush era torture policy a mere two days after President Obama's inauguration.

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