Obama: Torture Okay if Just Following Orders

Saturday, April 18, 2009

In a move with ominous implications for Constitutional rights in the United States, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that his administration would not prosecute CIA employees or contractors who participated in the torturing of detainees in violation of the War Crimes Act of 1996. Saying now is “a time for reflection, not retribution,” the president declared it would be “unfair” to try and convict those who participated in the extraordinary rendition program created by the Bush administration and those who committed torture, because these actions had been sanctioned by legal memos prepared by President Bush’s Justice Department.

In the same prepared statement, President Obama said, “The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals.” But that promise flies in the face of the War Crimes Act of 1996, which the GOP-dominated Congress adopted, making it a federal crime to commit a “grave breach” of the Geneva Conventions, meaning the deliberate “killing, torture or inhuman treatment” of detainees. Even John Ashcroft, Bush’s first attorney general, said, “The War Crimes Act of 1996 makes violation of parts of the Geneva Convention a crime in the United States.” The U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2006 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, affirmed that the War Crimes Act applied to detainees in the War on Terror.
Not only will the Obama administration not prosecute CIA workers, it will provide legal representation at no cost to them if called before international tribunals or congressional investigations. They also will be protected from having to pay any financial judgments.
The decision to go easy on the CIA was intended to placate the concerns of top intelligence officials, who worried that morale and recruitment might suffer if the threat of legal prosecution hung over the agency or those who perform its clandestine operations.
Although President Obama has stated that torture will not be used during his administration, he sent a message to future presidents that they, like President Bush, can authorize its use no matter what the law says.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
New Interrogation Details Emerge (by Carrie Johnson and Julie Tate, Washington Post)
Is George Bush Guilty of War Crimes...and Who Cares? (by David Wallechinsky, Huffington Post)
See all 11 comments


Coronella Keiper 15 years ago
I agree there should be some punishment of those who "were just following orders", to deter future horrors and so everyone learns responsibility; but it is an even greater necessity that those "at the top", who already understand morality and law, be held to a higher level of accountability.
Jan 15 years ago
From a campaign supporter, Shame on you Obama. He spend his whole campaign differentiating himself from Bush policies, championing his own "foresight", and here he is essentially condoning the Bush rhetoric. It's a shame this isn't getting more press, more conversation.
Monica 15 years ago
"The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws." So... if his administration was around in the late 19th and early 20th century, they wouldn't have challenged the Jim Crow laws? Laws that infringe civil liberties need to be redefined.
Klaus 15 years ago
It saddens me to tears to see so few who share my degree of indignation regarding this issue. There's no grey-area here, we either condone torture or not. A just nation simply does not allow the fascistic "just following orders" defense.
Ron Vic 15 years ago
Recall the Nuremberg trials against the Nazis. "Following orders" was not a legal defense. And to think Obama has a degree in Constitutional Law.
Edward Virtually 15 years ago
Letting torturers off the hook is not a "win-win for justice", it is the antithesis of it. People who defend the "just following orders" excuse prove we've been morally bankrupted by W. We put those who used it at Nuremberg to death. It was invalid then and invalid now.
Coronella Keiper 15 years ago
Pres. Obama did a win-win for justice and for law and order; he didn't accept what was immorally and illegally done, but he did not expect soldiers untrained in moral and American law to understand what they were doing; victims can sue and top brass see jail. In Rhode Island and Providence Farmlands
James Marsh 15 years ago
This is an obvious attempt to link Obama to torture when the real problem is with Bush and buddies. I don't think Obama wants to divide the country anymore than it already is. He'd rather spend his political capital on our most urgent needs, the economy, health care, green energy and education.
James Marsh 15 years ago
Real nice title and especially the way you put an image of a dead Iraqi with an American soldier giving the thumbs up right underneath the title as IF Obama had ANYTHING to do with it. Obama never said "torture is OK if just following orders"" that is why he is abolishing it.
Zhu Bajie 15 years ago
More torture in police stations, next.

Leave a comment