Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In the Year of Our Obama . . .

The cult of Obama is taking some hits. The "hope and change" mantra is proving to mean change, as in the loss of hope. Obama is looking like a coward or an accomplice in Wall Street's looting of the United States. He is looking like a coward or an accomplice in the immunizing of Bush-era war criminals against prosecution for crimes domestic and foreign.

The issues of economics are so complicated and so veiled by the secrecy guaranteed by Geithner, Bernanke, Summers — all under the aegis of Obama — that it is difficult even for those well-versed in economics to describe clearly what is happening. Not so in the case of torture.

Moreover, in the case of Bush torture policy, the public sentiment is unambiguously and overwhelmingly in favor of investigation and probably prosecution. Yet the coward Obama won't even go so far as to investigate.

Jeremy Scahill, author of the key study of Blackwater's crimes in Iraq, has an excellent essay examining Obama's stance on investigation and prosecution.

This development [release of a new report on Bush torture policy] comes as the movement to try to hold senior Bush administration officials, their torturers and their lawyers accountable for their crimes is gaining new momentum. President Obama’s comments on Tuesday, made during a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, has been reported in the press as Obama keeping the door open to prosecuting former Bush administration officials. What he actually indicated is that he may take the position that it “is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws” and is open to Congress forming a bipartisan commission to conduct an inquiry. The statement on Attorney General Eric Holder is perhaps a small step forward, but the “commission” idea is very problematic (more on this in a moment). The fact is that the president already did incredible damage to the accountability movement, and possibly acted unconstitutionally and in contravention of international law, by publicly—and repeatedly—stating that he will not allow prosecution of the CIA torturers because they were “in good faith” following evil orders. One of the most recent comments by Obama about this was made at CIA headquarters:

“Don’t be discouraged by what’s happened in the last few weeks,” he told employees. “Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be president of the United States and that’s why you should be proud to be members of the C.I.A.”

Legal experts have pointed out that the decision not to prosecute the torturers was not Obama’s to make. “The attorney general is entrusted with upholding the law where crimes are committed, not making a political decision as to whether the president believes it is expedient to do so,” according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.


Scahill notes that Senator Diane Feinstein seems to be taking a "sit on it 'til things blow over" approach, much as the Senate did in the Iran-Contra investigations during the Reagan administration.

President Obama seems be a master of nothing so much as the balancing act of political neutrality, in the service of . . . what? Self-preservation, I think. Anyone from a country with a more blatantly corrupt government would recognize the pattern. Corrupt officials of one party ensure their own immunity by guaranteeing that of the other equally corrupt parties. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

Just as Wall Street is proving wholly immune to accountability for robbing the American people blind, so too are our elected leaders proving immune to accountability for crimes against humanity. This is an essential feature of oligarchy.

It's 35 years since we last really held a president - Nixon - even remotely accountable. Reagan committed impeachable offenses, and Congress ultimately did nothing. (I remember well seeing Rep. Thomas Foley responding to a reporter's question saying that it seemed that impeachable offenses might have been committed.)

George W. Bush surpassed Nixon and Reagan combined in the sheer criminality of his administration. But Obama, who will in due course commit his own crimes in Afghanistan or in abetting the annihilation of the American economy, will in due course seek his own immunity. And in the case of torture specifically, plenty of Democrats were happy to applaud as long as it seemed the president enjoyed some popularity.

The general point is, that the United States has a leadership -- public and private, Democratic and Republican -- that wants, expects, demands immunity from the will of the people. It has passed the point of a mere desire to being understood as a right. The Divine Right of Oligarchs. Look at the response of Jane Harman to being subjected to a legal version of the very invasion of privacy that she supported in illegal instances.

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