Monday, November 30, 2009

The good and the bad about Presidents - and Obama's position on torture

I've often written about the reasons I admire Andrew Jackson and the democratic politics he represented. Heck, I even named my personal blog after him! If I had to state very briefly why I consider Jackson, half of the founding duo that the Democratic Party honors in its "Jefferson-Jackson" dinners, it would go something like this. Jackson was a wealthy man who successfully fought the power of concentrated wealth in the form of the Bank of the United States on behalf of the people. He was a Southern slaveowner who successfully stood up for the United States and the Constitution and democracy against the South Carolina secessionists. Saving the Union from John Calhoun would be reason enough in itself for him to be considered a great President.

He made the right decisions on those issues. On relocating Indians from the Southeast to Oklahoma, he made the wrong one. It's a reminder that even the energetic leader of a movement that continued to fight to expand and defend democracy long after he was out of office can make really bad decisions. An d that democracy is a phenomenon that emerged the historical process due to decisions made by real people. Democracy isn't a synonym for all things good and wonderful. And it's actual development has at times been ugly. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't celebrate the real progress that the development of democracy made in the life of humanity.

On the other hand, I wouldn't see Jackson as such a favorable symbol if I thought that his decision on "Indian removal" was done with genocidal intentions. I discuss that decision at greater length in Old Hickory and the Indians 04/08/04.

Torture, on the other hand, is today a clear-cut criminal and immoral act. Even more than the death penalty, torture involves the deliberate infliction of cruelty. And its not about getting information or insuring justice. Government torture is an act of state terror.


So its grim news to see the recent reports indicating that the torture program may well be continuing under the Obama administration: Afghans Detail Detention in ‘Black Jail’ at U.S. Base by Alissa RubinNew York Times 11/28/09; 2 Afghans allege abuse at U.S. site Joshua Partlow and Julie Tate Washington Post 11/28/09.

The torture issue isn't going away. Not for the Cheney-Bush administration. And if it is continuing under the Obama administration, not for them either. The sooner Obama normalizes the treatment of prisoners of war and terror suspects and brings them in line with US and international law, the better it will be. But his record so far has been very discouraging, and that's probably putting it mildly.

I'm not willing to credit Obama administration officials with any good will if they are allowing torture to continue. We know what torture is. And what the consequences are for the rule of law. No excuses on this issue.

Further stories on the torture issue and the Times and Post stories above:

Marcy Wheeler, The TWO Afghan Black Site Stories Emptywheel 11/28/09

Glenn Greenwald, Is Obama's civil liberties record understandable? Salon 11/27/09

David Dayen, Detainees At Black Jails In Afghanistan Allege Abuse FDL News Desk 11/29/09

Marcy Wheeler, The 13 people who made torture possible Salon 05/18/09

Joe Conason, We tortured to justify war Salon 05/14/09

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