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Commentary Last Updated: Dec 5th, 2008 - 02:04:17

Torturous ambiguity
By Michael Hasty
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 5, 2008, 00:19

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You have to give credit to the power elite. They will do everything in their power to protect their prerogatives, to make sure their operatives don�t wander too far from the reservation -- which is to say, too far to the �left.�

Corporate media have, since the presidential election, been full of congratulations about the �centrist� inclinations Barack Obama has demonstrated with his cabinet choices and other decisions, including his hints that he would forego his campaign rhetoric about repealing Bush�s tax cuts for the wealthy and enacting windfall profits taxes on the oil companies -- more post-election �pragmatism.� Mainstream pundits are also happy that Obama is �standing up to his base� on the progressive left. See Clarence Page�s latest column at the Chicago Tribune for yet another giddy example of that trend.

I have a couple of things to say about that. First, I don�t think that �the left� was ever truly his base, although most of us, including me, were happy to see him elected over John McCain. (He was my fourth choice among the Democratic candidates, after Kucinich, Edwards and Richardson. I never trusted, and still don�t, his Wall Street connections.) Secondly, I wonder how large his personal base (the 10 million email addresses the media gushes about) actually is. I�m still getting emails from the campaign, which started after I visited the campaign website one time. I never signed up for anything. How many other non-Obamabots like me are on that email list?

At any rate, to return to my point: if Obama is indeed the sly progressive fox in the military-industrial henhouse that we�re hoping he turns out to be, in spite of the early indications, his strategy is being vindicated by the media reaction to his overt moves. A good example of why this is the case is the �controversy� being stirred up (on NPR yesterday morning) about his intelligence adviser John Brennan, a former CIA official who asked not to be considered for the position of Director of Central Intelligence in a letter last week, because questions were being raised on �the left� about his association with the torture practices of the Bush administration.

The NPR report said that he was asked to write the letter by the Obama team (which an unidentified spokesman denied). The �controversy� has been created by �responsible� voices in the national security establishment who are objecting to Obama�s �capitulation� to the left.

Torture may turn out to be the issue where the dividing line is clearly drawn between progressives (and, to be fair, their allies on this issue among principled members of the establishment) and the Obama administration. It�s difficult to tell in this interregnum limbo between the election and the inauguration when, as disenchantment grows among progressives, more mainstream liberals and Democrats are asking us to hold our fire. They�re right that he isn�t president yet.

But it�s discomforting, at the very least, that Obama is holding his cards so close to the vest on an issue that is as clearly defined as torture. The public reaction from the Obama team to their meeting yesterday with former military officers who want a change in the torture policy was disturbingly noncommittal. It�s hard to see how he can hope to restore America�s standing in the world, or even make any progress toward reducing terrorism, if he is going to be ambiguous about clear violations of international law.

To illustrate just how important this issue is to any expectation that America will be able to redeem itself in the eyes of the world, or why a clean break from the Bush policy is so critical, consider this confession from a special operations intelligence officer, quoted by law professor Scott Horton in Harper�s, from a (surprisingly enough) Washington Post op-ed:

�I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for Al Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It�s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don�t count American soldiers as Americans.�

If Obama indeed asked Brennan to withdraw his name from consideration as DCI, that has to be taken as a good sign. If corporate media, already setting the stage for exoneration of Bush and Cheney for their many crimes, don�t like it, so much the better

Michael Hasty lives on a farm in West Virginia, where he wrote a column for seven years for the Hampshire Review, the state�s oldest newspaper. In 2000, it was named best column by the West Virginia Press Association. His writing has appeared in the Charleston Gazette, Online Journal, Common Dreams, Buzzflash, Tikkun and many other websites. He publishes the blog, Radical Pantheist. He plays guitar and harmonica with the folk/gospel trio, the Time Travelers. Email:. radicalpantheist(at)gmail (dot) com.

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