A War on Terror by Any Other Name

Like many other American
progressive-types (title for sake of argument), I voted for Obama and
hope every day he'll facilitate the change he promised. A big part of
the change progressives interpreted that promise to mean was to bring
an end to the Bush administration's "War on Terror." The White House no
longer uses the term -- but how much of a break has the new
administration really made?

I am not condemning his entire presidency -- nor am I debating it,
and I would not debate his goodness as an individual man. I'm arguing
that so far his administration has failed to resolve (by reversing) a
massive constitutional and moral crisis which has resulted in the
brutalization of thousands.

A lot of powerful people in Washington may think it's a
crazy-leftist-fringe position to think the intellectual authors of a
torture regime should be investigated and prosecuted. But recent
polling suggests at least half of the American population favors an
independent investigation or criminal prosecution of members of the
Bush administration for torture. Half is not fringe. Maybe they say
this because they're scared, and well they should be.

It seems most people are quite clear -- the law says if someone
should be held underwater repeatedly on no sleep until he thinks he's
drowning, or tortured in other ways, the people who ordered it or did
it should be be arrested, charged, tried, and sent to jail. And even
if, say, 40% of the country wants to advocate breaking the law -- they
should still be resigned to see those who did it pay the price for it.
How that is a left /right debate is beyond me. How that is even
debatable is also beyond me.

Of course, I think it is legitimate for the Commander-in-Chief to
be concerned for the safety of his soldiers. I am as well. But the
reality is that anti-American sentiment has already been inflamed in
Iraq, Afghanistan and across the Muslim world by horrific acts of
torture and detainee abuse (not to mention arbitrary detentions and
civilian casualties). The photos are evidence of what Afghans and
Iraqis already know has taken place. And their number -- there are up
to 2000 photos allegedly up for release -- is further proof that
torture and abuse were widespread and systemically accepted in US
detention facilities.

Whether or not the Obama administration releases them now, the
pictures will eventually come out. And if Obama wants to make a true
break with Bush/Cheney's "War on Terror" -- and not simply rebrand it
-- releasing the photos would be an important step, and send a signal
to the rest of the world. If the move is judged too dangerous for US
troops, the president could at least ask the Department of Defense to
release the photos to an independent council charged with investigating
and prosecuting those at the highest levels responsible for mandating
and creating a culture of torture and abuse. So far, he has done

What is most disturbing about the refusal to release the photos is
the broader pattern into which it fits -- a pattern of decisions that
effectively preserve the framework of Bush's War on Terror, with all
the violations of our constitution that it entails.

I spoke with Constitutional Law professor Jonathan Turley, and this
is how he described the series of decisions that the administration has

"Well it can't get any worse: extreme
executive privilege arguments in court, withholding of abuse photos,
adoptions of indefinite detentions without trial, restarting military
commissions, and blocking any torture investigation. Welcome to Bush


"In my view, it comes down to a simple question of the
rule of law FOIA clearly mandates the release of the photos. Notably,
even Obama says that they are not as bad as the first set. However, it
does not matter. It would be a dangerous thing if an Administration can
withhold documents and photographs on the basis for embarrassment to
the country. FOIA is needed to get material that an Administration has
refused to release. It is often embarrassing. If an Administration can
simply invoke an embarrassment exemption, FOIA would be gutted..."

Obama never promised he would transform the entire
architecture of the American system -- he's a pragmatist, not a
revolutionary. But he did say he would restore balance and the rule of
law to the existing system. For that, the Bush/Cheney "War on Terror"
paradigm must be dismantled. Disclosing the photos and mandating an
independent prosecutor to investigate those responsible for torture
would be one step in signaling a genuine break with this endless-just
war paradigm, and ensure the terrible violations it made possible will
never again be perpetrated by agents of the United States.

And that a horrible precedent will not be set for future US state crimes.

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