Barack Obama National Security Politics The Opinionsphere The War on Terrorism

Sick of all this naivete about Obama

[digg-reddit-me]I’m sick of all this naivete about Obama.

And no, I’m not talking about those who moon over him and who believe he can do no wrong. I’m talking about those who now are on their high horse acting betrayed because Obama isn’t doing what they want.

Specifically I’m talking about this and this.

The problem as I see it is simple: under Bush, many critics of the power grab that was Bush’s War on Terror rallied together against him – and in 2008, many of them rallied around Obama. In working for a common cause they seemed to forget that between them they had some pretty serious disagreements.

For example, on one hand, there were those who I’m going to label progressives and/or libertarians who believed that the proper response to terrorism was law enforcement and believed the term “war” was inappropriate and who opposed:

  • the illegal war for oil against Iraq;
  • the warrantless wiretapping that violated the Constitutional protections of the Fourth Amendment;
  • any form of indefinite detention;
  • torture;
  • the practice of rendition (from Bill Clinton to its expansion under Bush);
  • the state secrets privilege.

Also, progressives opposed:

  • the practice of targeted killing;
  • the flouting of international law.

And then there were the liberals who believed that “war” was the correct term for the nation’s struggle against terrorism, but who opposed:

  • the “dumb war” against Iraq – on the basis of the fact that it would hurt our interests;
  • the defiance of the FISA statute that limited the power of the executive branch;
  • indefinite detention at the sole discretion of the executive;
  • torture;
  • the expanded rendition program under George W. Bush;
  • the overuse of the state secrets privilege.

Also, liberals opposed:

  • the use of signing statements to eviscerate laws passed by Congress;
  • the defiance (even denial) of the checks and balances between the branches of government.

The liberals and progressives/libertarians agreed that they needed to oppose Bush’s power grab. They disagreed though on the proper response to terrorism.

Obama, being a politician, did not seek to emphasize these differences among those who supported him. He finessed the issues by stating the liberal positions strongly – but at the same time, he made no secret of the fact that he was a liberal instead of a progressive.

Obama has made his positions clear. As he said in the campaign:

Just because the President misrepresents our enemies does not mean we do not have them. The terrorists are at war with us…When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world’s most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland.

He has since maintained that he believes we are “at war” with Al Qaeda:

Now let me be clear: we are indeed at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat. But we must do so with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability.

On Iraq, he famously said:

I don’t oppose all wars… What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.

When Obama voted for the FISA compromise, he did so on the grounds that the program was needed. He explained that he had opposed it because Bush had enacted it in defiance of the Congress and established law:

The exclusivity provision makes it clear to any President or telecommunications company that no law supersedes the authority of the FISA court. In a dangerous world, government must have the authority to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people. But in a free society, that authority cannot be unlimited.

Obama has repeatedly stated that he opposed indefinite detention at the whim of the executive – but did not say he was opposed to it in every form.

In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight.

On rendition and torture, Obama has kept his word. On state secrets, he has not so far.

This isn’t to say that progressives and libertarians shouldn’t criticize Obama – but on most of these issues Obama has been clear and consistent. And given the reasonable alternatives, it’s hard to see who was a better candidate. (Though I can already see the comments about Ron Paul being written.)

The fact is: Obama is a significant improvement over Bush – and the changes he has made and is making are significant. It matters whether or not there is a check on the executive branch; it matters whether or not we have a president who does not flagrantly disregard the law. That’s not a reason to give up what you believe – to keep pushing the civil libertarian case against Obama.

But at least be honest about it.

1,311 replies on “Sick of all this naivete about Obama”

You are an apologist. He said “America does not torture” but he refuses to pursue those who would bend the laws so that they may. He said that we need a more open government, and all we’ve been met with is secrecy. He said he would stop wiretapping, and he has only expanded that program.

It’s like saying: My former boyfriend hit me. My new boyfriend hits me as well, but not as much or as hard, so this is a good boyfriend. Wouldn’t you rather have one that just loves you? Without all the pain and humiliation?

@John Thwiss:

What you define as being an apologist here is just telling the truth. Obama said we do not torture – and we don’t. It’s not even his responsibility to go after those who torture – it’s the attorney general’s. Re. wiretapping – he didn’t say he would stop – and he didn’t expand the program as you say. He said he was opposed to it if it was against the law – and then voted to bring it into compliance with the law.

If you can’t understand these distinctions, it doesn’t make you honest. It makes you thick.

Uh, joe. Go ahead and google ‘abu ghraib photos’

You really dont consider covering a man in feces, and then forcing him to eat it to be torture? Because there are pics of that online. Honestly, you just lost all credibility by claiming we dont torture. There is so much photographic evidence of this. The people resposible, from top to bottom, need to be held accountable. Obama not holding these people accountable is where people feel betrayed.

You call us THICK? I call you SICK. A disgusting human being with no compassion for other, instead parroting a line trying to defend their political position.. much to the suffering of the tortured, 13 year old boy.

@justanotherguy –

You clearly are thick. I said, “Obama said we do not torture – and we don’t.” And that’s true.

We did torture – and I was calling Bush out on that years ago – and think Obama should take a more active role in making the public case for the public prosecution of those who committed war crimes such as torture during the Bush administration. I’ve been writing about this since this blog was created – and even before.

But Obama officially ended these practices. And even Bush had stopped the authorization what he called “harsh interrogation techniques” as of 2004. Bush though continued to maintain that he had the authority to torture. Obama has repudiated this authority.

You can call me “SICK” – based on faulty assumptions if you want. But in doing so, you make it clear you’re being rather thick – just trying to find an ad hominem line of attack to throw at me as you don’t seem to have any substantive one.


Interesting analogy. Not really sure that it fits here.

My point isn’t that Obama is ideal – only that those claiming to be “betrayed” by him are being either naive or disingenuous.

Hitler did a lot of positive things for Germany.

In fact, the social programs and infrastructure improvements that he had made to the country allowed it to flourish rapidly at a time of their worst economic crisis in history. It can easily be said that from a purely objective political point of view, Hitler was the best leader Germany ever had and he’s responsible for most of the wealth the country has amassed today.

So stop saying Hitler “betrayed” you. I’m sick of all the naivete.

Joe. Its about accountability. I noticed you ignored that. Hey, keep defending people who raped children in front of their parents. I’m sure its good for your position.

Perhaps the worst incident at Abu Ghraib involved a girl aged 12 or 13 who screamed for help to her brother in an upper cell while stripped naked and beaten. Iraqi journalist Suhaib Badr-Addin al-Baz, who heard the girl’s screams, also witnessed an ill 15-year-old who was forced to run up and down with two heavy cans of water and beaten whenever he stopped. When he finally collapsed, guards stripped and poured cold water on him. Finally, a hooded man was brought in. When unhooded, the boy realized that the man was his father, who doubtless was being intimidated into confessing something upon sight of his brutalized son.

The people who authorized this action, and others like it, still walk free and are not being prosecuted.

I saw REDACTED fucking a kid, his age would be about 15 – 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard the screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered, and I saw REDACTED who was in military uniform putting his dick in the little kids ass.
They put the sheets again on the door. Grainer and his helper they cuffed one prisoner in room #1, named REDACTED, he was an Iraqi citizen. They tied him to the bed and they were inserted the phosphoric light in his ass and he was yelling for God’s help.

Dear President Obama,
On November 2, 1989, I was burned with cigarettes more than 111 times. I was raped over and over again–and this was only the beginning.
During the past few years, I have had ample reason to reflect on the life of an extraordinary man, Jean Amery, an Austrian philosopher who was tortured by the Nazis. I was first introduced to his writings shortly after my own torture in Guatemala. Like many who have survived this unspeakable horror, I emerged from that clandestine prison lost and broken–a body without a soul. Gone was the God to whom I had committed my life. Gone was trust, the very idea of justice betrayed. Gone was all that I had believed in. Everything that defined me as a human being ceased to exist.
Amery’s words, odd as this may seem, brought some comfort: “Anyone who has been tortured remains tortured.” “Anyone who has suffered torture never again will be at ease in the world…faith in humanity, already cracked by the first slap in the face, then demolished by torture, is never acquired again.”
These words seemed written just for me. Somehow, somewhere on this earth was another person who understood what I had learned at the cruel hands of my torturers. For a moment at least, it gave me peace of mind. It was only years later that I would understand the fundamental meaning of Amery’s words: “Anyone who has suffered torture, never again will be at ease in the world.” And it was years after this understanding that I would learn that Jean Amery had killed himself.
Mr. President, from anonymous graves, voices still cry out. From clandestine prisons, in the midst of indescribable pain, we, my sisters and brothers, beg you to hear. Will you listen to what we alone know of this crime against humanity–what we know from the inside out?
Please hear us! Torture does not end with the release from some clandestine prison. It is not something we “get over.” Simply, “looking forward” is not an option for us. Torture is a permanent invasion of our minds and our souls. Surviving is far worse that the actual physical torture itself. Those wounds heal in time–but the memories cling to us. Psychological torture is time without end. No one fully recovers from torture. The damage can never be undone.
What is our claim to speak with authority on this subject? We have been beaten, hanged by wrists, arms, or legs, burned by electrical devices or cigarettes, bitten by humans and dogs, cut or stabbed with knives or machetes. And this is only a sample of what has been done to us. Each mark, visible or invisible, is a permanent reminder of what was done to us–a reminder that in so many cases fills us with embarrassment and even shame. What a cruel irony that it is the tortured one and not the torturer who feels shame.
And what an irony it is that today in the United States, the tortured so often are told that what they experienced was not even cruel and unusual, let alone torture. What an irony that those who oppose torture, oppose the violation of U.S law by acts of non-violent civil resistance can be sent to prison while those who ordered this brutality walk free, receiving the de facto impunity implied in your call to “look forward” and only forward.
Mr. President, there is ample reason to believe that important members of the previous administration may well have violated the law. Is it not your responsibility and that of the Attorney General to investigate that possibility? And if the law was violated, is it not your responsibility to hold perpetrators accountable, no matter how exalted their previous positions?
We who have paid the dreadful price of torture beseech you to determine just what happened to law and morality during the past eight years and to make those findings public. It is only by an independent investigation that we will learn the truth, and, if that investigation warrants, it will be by prosecution that we may hold to account those who violated the law and despoiled our national honor. Getting things right in the future depends on knowing what went wrong in the past. You know this when it comes to the economy. You know this when it comes to a health care system. How can you not know it when it comes to human rights?
Mr. President, on behalf of those who know this cruel subject so well, I ask you to act in service to the truth and to the principle that no matter how high the position held nor how much power accrues to it, its incumbent must be held accountable to the law. As I hope you will agree, sir, to do less is to betray the very idea of justice.
Thank you for reading my letter.
Sister Dianna Ortiz, U.S. citizen tortured in Guatemala

Torture Continues under Obama

By Washington’s Blog

Global Research, May 19, 2009
Washington’s Blog

While torture under the Bush administration was horrible, at least it has stopped. Right?


Jeremy Scahill (the reporter who broke most of the stories on Blackwater) says that a military police unit at Guantanamo regularly brutalizes unarmed prisoners, including gang-beating them, breaking their bones, gouging their eyes and dousing them with chemicals.

Specifically, whenever there is “disobedience” by the detainees – which can include praying, or having 2 styrofoam cups in their cell instead of 1, or refusing medication or failing to immediately respond when spoken to – the “Immediate Reaction Force” (IRF) is sent in.

Scahill describes what happens next:

When an IRF team is called in, its members are dressed in full riot gear, which some prisoners and their attorneys have compared to “Darth Vader” suits. Each officer is assigned a body part of the prisoner to restrain: head, right arm, left arm, left leg, right leg…

[The IRF teams then mete out brutal punishment, including] gang beating them, forcing their heads into toilets, breaking bones, gouging their eyes, squeezing their testicles, urinating on a prisoner’s head, banging their heads on concrete floors and hog-tying them — sometimes leaving prisoners tied in excruciating positions for hours on end…

[One prisoner was sprayed directly in the eyes with mace and gouged in the eyes and was then refused medical treatment, which resulted in permanent blindness in one eye. He also endured a “sexual attack”.

Another prisoner had a third prisoner’s feces spread on him.]

There was also torture using water:

The ERF team came into the cell with a water hose under very high pressure. He was totally shackled, and they would hold his head fixed still. They would force water up his nose until he was suffocating and would scream for them to stop. This was done with medical staff present, and they would join in.

Scahill says that these are not “a few bad apples”:

The IRF teams “were fully approved at the highest levels [of the Bush administration], including the Secretary of Defense and with outside consultation of the Justice Department,” says Scott Horton, one of the leading experts on U.S. Military and Constitutional law. This force “was designed to disabuse the prisoners of any idea that they would be free from physical assault while in U.S. custody,” he says. “They were trained to brutally punish prisoners in a brief period of time, and ridiculous pretexts were taken to justify” the beatings.

Scahill’s allegations are being confirmed by the Spanish torture investigation. Indeed:

“Up to 15 people attempted to commit suicide at Camp Delta due to the abuses of the IRF officials,” according to the Spanish investigation.

One particular incident shows how brutal the IRF interrogators are:

In January 2003, Sgt. Sean Baker [an active-duty U.S. soldier and Gulf War veteran] was ordered to participate in an IRF training drill at Guantánamo where he would play the role of an uncooperative prisoner. Sgt. Baker says he was ordered by his superior to take off his military uniform and put on an orange jumpsuit like those worn by prisoners. He was told to yell out the code word “red” if the situation became unbearable, or he wanted his fellow soldiers to stop.

According to sworn statements, upon entering his cell, IRF members thought they were restraining an actual prisoner. As Sgt. Baker later described:

They grabbed my arms, my legs, twisted me up and, unfortunately, one of the individuals got up on my back from behind and put pressure down on me while I was face down. Then he — the same individual — reached around and began to choke me and press my head down against the steel floor. After several seconds, 20 to 30 seconds, it seemed like an eternity because I couldn’t breathe. When I couldn’t breathe, I began to panic and I gave the code word I was supposed to give to stop the exercise, which was ‘red.’ … That individual slammed my head against the floor and continued to choke me. Somehow I got enough air. I muttered out: ‘I’m a U.S. soldier. I’m a U.S. soldier.’

Sgt. Baker said his head was slammed once more, and after groaning “I’m a U.S. soldier” one more time, “I heard them say, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,’ you know, like … he was telling the other guy to stop.”

According to CBS:

Bloodied and disoriented, Baker somehow made it back to his unit, and his first thought was to get hold of the videotape. “I said, ‘Go get the tape,’ ” recalls Baker. ” ‘They’ve got a tape. Go get the tape.’ My squad leader went to get the tape.”

Every extraction drill at Guantanamo was routinely videotaped, and the tape of this drill would show what happened. But Baker says his squad leader came back and said, “There is no tape.”

The New York Times later reported that the military “says it can’t find a videotape that is believed to have been made of the incident.” Baker was soon diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. He began suffering seizures, sometimes 10 to 12 per day.

“This was just one typical incident, and Baker was recognizable as an American,” says Horton. “But it gives a good flavor of what the Gitmo detainees went through, which was generally worse.”

If they did that to a U.S. soldier during a training exercise, one who was given a special code word to have the interrogation stop, what they did to actual detainees had to have been much worse.

The torture by IRF teams is continuing under the Obama administration. In fact, it is actually getting worse:

The Center for Constitutional Rights released a report titled “Conditions of Confinement at Guantánamo: Still In Violation of the Law,” which found that abuses continued. In fact, one Guantanamo lawyer, Ahmed Ghappour, said that his clients were reporting “a ramping up in abuse” since Obama was elected.


I am not defending those who tortured – and I have argued and continue to argue that they should be prosecuted, or in the alternative, a truth commission should be set up. On this, I disagree with Obama’s stances.

Stop setting up straw men arguments to knock down.

But it’s important to note that Obama is not the one responsible for prosecuting anyone – that is the job of the Justice Department which is supposed to be independent of the President.

You repeatedly ignore this fundamental point while asininely accusing me of supporting torture. I am well aware of the cases you cite – and have cited numerous similar ones. For example here (

I have written about torture extensively including:

Stop with the inaccurate ad hominem attacks.

joe, you have your blinders on if you think we dont still torture.

also, you disagree with obama’s stance, but wont have him use his bully pulpit? What? okay. Whatever helps you sleep at night.


Scahill’s reports are disturbing – but there is an important distinction that is missed here. Torture and brutality are always a part of prisons and wars. Scahill could (and should) uncover substantial brutality and torture in American prisons.

What was so extremely disturbing about the Bush administration’s interrogation program wasn’t just that torture and brutality were occurring – but that it was deliberate policy to inflict torture. The Bush administration apparently ended this sometime in 2004 as its legality was questioned by the new head of the OLC – but they continued to assert they had the right to torture. Obama has officially repudiated this right.

All of this is distinct from instances of abuse and torture and brutality that continue in American prisons and in Guantanomo and other WoT prisons.

Both should be opposed – but one is more clearly in the president’s control to stop. And that Obama did. He stopped any government endorsement of torture; he repudiated the use of torture as an interrogation technique.


Show me any evidence that America still continues to endorse torture. Then you can accuse me of having blinders.

And I would have Obama use his bully pulpit on this issue. I think he should. But it is still wrong to say Obama is not holding these people responsible. It’s not his job to. It’s the Attorney General’s.

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