MoveOn: Break the Silence on Torture and War

Progressives who have been silent on the escalating wars in
Afghanistan and Pakistan have a new opportunity to change their stance
now that the nearly $100 billion Congressional war supplemental (HR 2346)
authorizes suppression of hundreds of torture photographs held by the

The amendment, by Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham, is designed
to bar the release of photos revealing torture at military prisons during the Bush administration, by exempting them from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

Democrats are in disarray over the issue. According to Congressional
reports, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at first approved the Lieberman-Graham
amendment, then backtracked after hearing complaints from Representatives Barney
Frank, Louise Slaughter and others from the Democrats' liberal wing. In
the meantime, Hillary Clinton was dutifully making phone calls to pick
off votes from the fifty-one Democrats' who opposed the House version in May.

Groups like, with millions of members and campaign dollars,
become crucial during close Congressional votes, either by their
presence or by their absence.

When I recently posted an article questioning MoveOn's silence towards the
escalating wars, the response of MoveOn's leadership was to question its
accuracy and demand corrections from anyone publishing the piece.

I never meant to suggest that MoveOn's executive director explicitly or
verbally promised President Obama at a White House meeting that MoveOn
would keep silent about the war escalations. What I did write is that
MoveOn told Obama they were supporting his domestic agenda, which, in
Beltway culture, was a clear message that this former antiwar group
would not be opposing the president's military escalation, nor his
Predator strikes, nor the civilian casualties, not even his backtracking
on torture promises. At that point, MoveOn had not even polled its
membership on Afghanistan, Pakistan or torture.

Move.On's continuing silence only speaks for itself. While their
internal discussion of Afghanistan and Pakistan unfolds, they at least
could express strong opposition to the administration's non-compliance
with the Freedom of Information Act, as well as support for Rep. Jim
McGovern's amendment calling for an exit strategy by December.

But now with the amendment pending to suppress the torture photos, the
moral pressure to break the silence is increasing. The administration
added to its policies of secrecy yesterday by urging a federal court to suppress documents detailing the CIA's videotaped interrogations at
secret prisons.

The Obama argument for suppressing the torture photos is specious. The
administration claims that their release will inflame greater insurgent
hatred against American troops. But the Abu Ghraib torture photos already have served that inflammatory purpose and the current cover-up will
undermine confidence that America's secret policies are changing.

This is an administration that once pledged no more supplementals--the
spending bills that avoid the scrutiny of hearings. Having reneged on
that procedural promise, they now are loading the war appropriation
measure with the FOIA exemption amendment, not to mention funds for
swine flu and the International Monetary Fund. These administration
approaches undermine the deliberative process and weaken the role of the
legislative branch.

The real effect of Obama's censorship decision is to dampen any
resurgence of antiwar sentiment and public support for an
investigation of past crimes. Silence in the face of censorship
means collaborating in the cover-up of torture. The political effect is
to leave antiwar Democrats under greater pressure to yield than to
stand their ground.

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