One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Obama’s detention policies the same as Bush’s, except for that whole torture thing

Eli Lake, reporter for the always reputable Washington Times and frequent contributor to Marty Peretz’s New Republic, has a baffling piece in the latest issue of the latter. Writing on the contrast between Bush’s and Obama’s detention policies, Lake seems to be trying to bend over backwards to show that liberal Obama supporters are disappointed with their man’s inability to utterly repudiate every single aspect of Bush policy. But conceding that he has renounced the minor policy of torture is a fairly weak way to make this case.

As for rendition, the controversial practice of kidnapping terrorist suspects on foreign soil and frequently sending them to other countries, Obama shut down permanent CIA secret prisons known as black sites, where Al Qaeda leaders were often held after being captured…[Incoming CIA director Leon] Panetta said that terrorist suspects would not be picked up off the streets at random and sent to foreign dungeons for the purpose of being tortured…


Indeed, a senior White House legal adviser tells me, “There have been no changes to rendition policy, except to the extent that renditions would render people to places where they would be treated humanely”…Of course, doing more to ensure that rendered suspects are not tortured in those countries would represent a small measure of progress as far as human rights advocates are concerned. But it’s hardly the sweeping change many were hoping for.

A minor policy adjustment

A minor policy adjustment

So Obama is not changing rendition policies except for shutting down CIA black sites, not picking suspects off the streets without due process, ensuring that they are treated humanely, and not freaking torturing them. If that is a “small measure of progress,” I don’t really know what Lake is expecting of the radical “human rights advocates” whose attitudes he claims to depict.

The problem, it seems to me, is that Lake — like many who so eagerly picked up on Obama’s “false [] choice between our safety and our ideals” comment in his inauguration speech — is operating exactly according to the very false dichotomy between “safety” and “ideals” that Obama rejects. Human rights defenders are not simply blinkered partisans for “liberty,” mere weights on the “ideals” side of this phony scale. No serious human rights proponent does not also not only acknowledge the needs of national security and the existence of bad guy terrorists, but also strongly embrace the concept of justice that has been supplanted by the tough-guy, torture-the-terrorists mentality of the Bush years.

So just to clarify, yes, it is a big step that the Obama Administration is not going to engage in sending detainees off to rights abusing countries to be tortured. Will suspects be arrested? Yes. Will some of them still be sent to their home countries to be tried? Yes. That seems a long way from locking up liberty in a foreign dungeon, though.

(image from flickr user KCIvey under a Creative Commons license)


February 24, 2009 - Posted by | U.S. Foreign policy, U.S. politics | , , , , ,

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