The Torture Report, Barack Obama, and the Abdication of Leadership


The Daily Beast

The release earlier this week of the Senate's "torture report" has been discussed mostly in terms of what went on under George W. Bush's presidency and at "his" CIA. That lets other lawmakers—including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat in charge of the committee that released the report, and Barack Obama, among others—off way too easy. And it leads to a serious misapprehension of the true significance of the mess in Washington, D.C. From my Daily Beast column on the topic:

We need to be clear about the ultimate import of the torture report, which covers a period from late 2001 through 2009 and whose release was unconscionably delayed for years. It won't be the cause of lowered international esteem for America or even attacks on overseas personnel. No, that's all due to the same old failed interventionist foreign policy, massive and ongoing drone attacks, and the proliferation of "dumb wars" over the past dozen years under both Republican and Democratic presidents and Congresses.

The torture report is simply the latest and most graphic incarnation of an existential leadership crisis that has eaten through Washington's moral authority and ability to govern, in the way road salt and rust eat through car mufflers in a Buffalo winter. "America is great because she is good," wrote Tocqueville back in the day. "If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." We've got a lot of explaining to do, not just to the rest of the world but to ourselves. How much longer will we countenance the post-9/11 national security state, which Edward Snowden's ongoing revelations remind us are constantly mutating into new forms and outrages?…

Nobody here has credibility. Claims that they never knew about waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques by leaders such as Nancy Pelosi have never been particularly credible. Sen. Dianne Feinstein notes at the very start of the report, the original investigations started in 2007 when it came to light that the CIA had destroyed (accidentally!) video of its interrogations. What took so long for this all to see the light of day? And for all President Obama's cloying campaign patter about transparency, he still chose to keep 9,400 CIA documentsfrom the Senate Committee, citing "executive privilege." Some secrets, it seems, must be kept even from elected representatives who could still be sworn to secrecy….

The leadership in both parties is laughable and ineffective, incapable even of pushing a budget through in the official manner while missing no opportunity to sermonize on the real and imagined evils of their legislative adversaries. The torture report taunts both sides equally because in the final analysis, the difference between "How could you support this?" and "How could you let this happen?" is morally null and void.

Read the whole thing.