When Presidential Sermons Collide

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Salon.com

When Presidential Sermons Collide

President Obama gave an interview earlier this week to an Indonesian television station in lieu of the scheduled trip to that country which was canceled due to the health care vote.  In 2008, Indonesia empowered a national commission to investigate human rights abuses committed by its own government under the U.S.-backed Suharto regime "in an attempt to finally bring the perpetrators to justice," and Obama was asked in this interview:  "Is your administration satisfied with the resolution of the past human rights abuses in Indonesia?"  He replied:

We have to acknowledge that those past human rights abuses existed.  We can't go forward without looking backwards . . . .

When asked last year about whether the United States should use similar tribunals to investigate its own human rights abuses, as well his view of other countries' efforts (such as Spain) to investigate those abuses, Obama said:

I'm a strong believer that it's important to look forward and not backwards, and to remind ourselves that we do have very real security threats out there.

That "Look-Forward/Not-Backward" formulation is one which Obama and his top aides have frequently repeated to argue against any investigations in the U.S.  Why, as Obama sermonized, must Indonesians first look backward before being able to move forward, whereas exactly the opposite is true of Americans?  If a leader is going to demand that other countries adhere to the very "principles" which he insists on violating himself, it's probably best not to use antithetical clichés when issuing decrees, for the sake of appearances if nothing else.

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer -- in the last paragraph of her new article documenting the multiple lies told by former Bush speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist Marc Theissen in his pro-torture book -- offered the best summary yet as to why Obama's "Look Forward/Not Backward" mentality is so destructive:

The publication of "Courting Disaster" suggests that Obama's avowed determination "to look forward, not back" has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation.  By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn't protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.

Nothing enables the glorification of crimes, and nothing ensures their future re-occurrence, more than shielding the criminals from all accountability.  It's nice that Barack Obama is willing to dispense that lecture to other countries, but it's not so nice that he does exactly the opposite in his own.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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