It took less than one hundred days for Barack Obama to sell his soul.
In my recent Pravda.Ru article, Et Tu Barack (Part II), I expressed the hope that “with Obama’s election, the ‘audacity of hope’ would bring with it a ‘plethora of principle,’ that it would not be politics as usual, that the United States would apologize for the excesses of the Bush dictatorship, compensate those victimized by it, and criminally punish those responsible for advocating and/or engaging in acts of torture, rendition or illegal detention.”
Yet, in this same passage, I also expressed concern that Obama was planning to excuse these excesses when he asserted during his recent tour of Europe “that the world should look forward, not backward.”
Unfortunately—as is often the case in the nation that trumpets its respect for human rights, legal due process and “justice for all”—my hope evaporated and my concern became reality.
An Associated Press article by Jennifer Loven and Devlin Barrett revealed that the Obama administration will not prosecute CIA operatives who engaged in acts of torture during the eight-year reign of terror known as the Bush dictatorship.
Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder even stated that the federal government “would provide free legal representation to [CIA] employees in any legal proceeding or congressional investigation related to the [torture] program and would repay any financial judgment.”
To rationalize his contention that CIA torturers are above the law, Holder said, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.”
In other words, CIA operatives have been handed, on the proverbial silver platter, the “I was just following orders defense”—the same defense the United States government routinely rejected, and continues to reject, when used by associates of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein or other despots in “third-world” countries.
But even Obama and Holder’s overt endorsement of governmental abuses and lawlessness did not satisfy the current CIA director Leon Panetta or four former CIA “intelligence directors” who, knowing that evil thrives in darkness, opposed the release of the memos that exposed the torture policies of the Bush dictatorship to the American public.
Given that Obama cut his political teeth on the corrupt political machines in the city of Chicago and state of Illinois, perhaps his soul was already on the market. Chicago, after all, is the city where police officers were given carte blanche to carry out the extrajudicial executions of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark; The Chicagoland area is where a “good-old-boy” jury acquitted, and then celebrated with, police officers and prosecutors who had been on trial for knowingly using perjured testimony to send two innocent men to death row; Obama’s vacant seat in the United States Senate is now occupied by Roland Burris, a man who was so unconcerned about the prospect of these two innocent men being executed that his assistant, possessing the ethics that Burris apparently lacks, resigned in protest; and even more innocent people were sent to Illinois prisons and death rows, courtesy of former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, who allegedly sanctioned the use of torture to obtain “confessions” from criminal suspects. Predictably, Illinois state prosecutors have used every excuse to avoid prosecuting Burge, who now lives comfortably in Florida on a government pension.
In defending his decision to insulate CIA torturers from prosecution, Obama claims, “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”
Yet, in their quest for justice, numerous other countries around the world are spending that time and energy: Peru’s former president Alberto Fujimori recently received a twenty-five year prison sentence for organizing death squad killings and kidnappings during the 1990s; in Cambodia, Kaing Guek Eav is currently being prosecuted for numerous crimes, including torture, that occurred during the Khmer Rouge’s rule in the late 1970s; and, as recently as 2007, trials in Argentina have sought to punish former government officials who committed torture and other crimes during the seven-year reign of a right-wing military junta.
Federal officials in the United States are even attempting to deport John Demjanjuk based on allegations that, during World War II, he was an accessory to roughly twenty-nine thousand murders while serving as a guard at the Sobibor concentration camp in Poland.
Yet, when it comes to crimes committed by its own government, the United States—that “beacon of human rights,” that “cradle of liberty,” that “bastion of truth and justice” where “all men are created equal”—cannot even compete with nations that rarely boast of such virtues.
Given this unabashed hypocrisy, how can the Obama administration, with any degree of sincerity or credibility, now express concerns about the “human rights situation” in Cuba, or any other nation, when government sanctioned torturers live with immunity and impunity in the United States?
Abuses by the CIA and FBI, and the government’s proclivity to turn a blind eye to them, are notnew. Since their inceptions, these agencies have been responsible for countless murders, rapes, tortures, illegal detentions and other crimes, both within the United States and in countries throughout the world.
Although prosecutors did convict a few rogue FBI agents who had provided information to organized crime figures to help them avoid capture, prosecutions are rare whenever illegalities are committed against nascent political organizations, activists or “unpopular” people.
Even when such prosecutions occurred, as they did during the 1970s when several FBI agents were convicted of violating the rights of anti-war activists, corrupt apologists like Ronald Reagan, darling of the “conservatives,” issued pardons before any of these agents ever spent a day in prison. Reagan said he hoped to “forgive those who engaged in excesses,” a forgiveness conspicuously not extended to those whose rights were violated.
How ironic it is to now hear Obama, darling of the “liberals,” sound exactly like Reagan as he excuses the “excesses” of the CIA.
Obama’s actions convey two grim realities about America: the first is that American democracy is often nothing more than the substituting of one self-serving hypocrite for another; the second is that America’s legal system is founded on three lies—the lie that “justice is blind”; the lie that “nobody is above the law”; and the lie that “America is a nation of laws, not men.”
And a system founded upon lies is incapable of producing truth or justice.
America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, once said, “I tremble for our nation when I remember that God is just.” But when a country like Spain, with its doctrine of “universal justice,” refuses to investigate the crimes of the Bush dictatorship, people who dream of fairness and human rights must tremble for the world as well.
But, if Jefferson is correct, these CIA torturers and their enablers will ultimately discover, once their days on earth have ended, that a governmental rubber-stamp will not exempt them from paying for their crimes.
Yet, at the conclusion of Et Tu Barack (Part II), I expressed both my hope and my doubt “that those who do good will eventually be rewarded and that those who do evil will eventually be punished.”
Obama and Holder’s actions have only amplified my doubt, and made me wonder if any political system will ever produce honorable leaders who are guided by selfless principles, instead of driven by a self-aggrandizing lust for power.
In 1776, at the dawn of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” But, after eight nightmarish years of the Bush dictatorship and the realization that a new generation of torturers will walk freely and safely upon the earth, I am compelled to ask, “Do men even have souls to try?”
David R. Hoffman
Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru