Fri, 24 Apr 2009 13:53:22 +0000 – By Kim StolzWriter/MTV News
Once again, President Barack Obama's campaign promises and grandiose statements about "changing Washington" have come back to haunt him. The young, vibrant candidate who stole Iowa from Hillary and took the Presidency by a storm with exclamations of "hope" and "Yes We Can's" is now in the hot seat and realizing that re-vamping a centuries old system is not as easy as winning an election.
One of the main tenets that Obama preached during his campaign was the idea that Washington needs to be more "transparent" in its portrayal and practice to the American public. It was a strong platform, and Americans were craving some truth, as a lack of honesty disheartened the American public during the last two administrations. One area that especially deserved transparency, Obama argued, was the method of interrogation utilized by our intelligence agents and military to extract information from prisoners -- especially prisoners captured during the "War on Terror."
Seven years ago, with no dissent from cabinet members or the legislative branch, the Bush administration sanctioned the use of torture (the term used loosely) as a fair and necessary method of interrogation. Then came Abu Ghraib and several reported and unreported instances of harsh and inhumane interrogation. It was horrifying, and much of it caught on video for all of us to see. In his campaign, Obama condemned such interrogation methods, calling them unlawful, and promising to not only halt such methods in his first one hundred days, but to "bring to justice" those in the Bush administration who were responsible for "waterboarding" and other types of torture. It sounded good coming out of his mouth, and made him look like our moral answer to the corruption we all see in Washington. It sounded good, until we all saw how it actually played out.
The methods of interrogation that occurred during the Bush administration, while abhorrent, were not Obama's to disclose. There is a tradition in this country of presidents respecting their predecessors, regardless of policy differences, gaffes, or campaign fighting. As Obama stated, the entire world knew of the torture inflicted to our prisoners of war. Why, in colloquial terms, open up the can of worms? Why not just ban torture and illegalize its practice in his own administration? What Obama has done instead is instill a sense of fear and confusion in his cabinet, the CIA, a former vice president and attorney general. Did the president do this for the sake of transparency? If Obama wants to be looked upon as more than a spokesperson who reads out of a teleprompter and creates "symbolic" actions through handshakes and the release of secret documents, perhaps he should focus on the current and extremely daunting tasks that face our nation.
In the spirit of transparency, however, the documents have been released, and President Obama must decide whether or not to prosecute the officials involved in the brutal interrogations. It is Day 93 and Obama is flip-flopping. Since taking his seat in the oval office, the President has gained access to hundreds of thousands of high level documents and conversations, much of them, presumably, offering evidence of the advantages of such "brutal" interrogation methods. He has also been confronted with statements by his own top officials, such as that of the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, who previously acknowledged in a memo to the international community that Bush-era interrogation practices often yielded "high value information." If potentially - I stress potentially - these practices saved American lives, should Obama consume himself and everyone around him neck-deep with the extremely political and complicated question of whether or not to prosecute such practices?
The Obama pillars of "transparency" and "looking forward" have left him at an impasse. His advocacy for the release of the "Torture Memos," while certainly fulfilling his call for transparency, has turned out, in my opinion, to be a poor decision. It left him unable to "look forward" and focus on our more pressing national interests at hand. In addition, he now has encountered an issue of "message control." He's flip-flopped and, dare I say, in a rather transparent way. He first frightened hundreds of current and former officials by stating that he wants to prosecute those involved in brutal interrogation methods, but then took a stroll down to the CIA to assure them that they would be immune to such interrogations. On Tuesday, he stated, "For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from The White House, I do not think it's appropriate for them to be prosecuted. With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to pre-judge that."
While leaving legal decisions up to Holder is absolutely the right thing to do, it is somewhat humorous that Obama, who is here to "change Washington" used a very old, ingrained Washington trick: if things get muddy and you're starting to give mixed-messages... Delegate! Obama made his first mistake by issuing the release of the "Torture Memos," his second by announcing an imminent prosecution of those involved, and third, for flip-flopping on the issue, further politicizing it. Obama needs to stop focusing so much on this seemingly never-ending debate. We have an economic crisis on our hands and the situation in Afghanistan, which has since been coined "Obama's War," is in need of strict attention. I'm not sure that Obama's diplomatic visit to the CIA and constant attention to the potential prosecutions for crimes committed in years past is truly the best use of his time right now.
Alluding to this concern, Obama said on Wednesday, "I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations." I agree and respect that, President Obama, but perhaps looking forward, you might recognize that flip-flopping and pragmatism that lends itself to indecisiveness is what leads to "politicization" in the first place. Perhaps the lesson learned here is to be careful in idealistic campaign promises, such as "transparency;" they will almost undoubtedly come back to get you when you actually enact them and learn their consequences.