Moral Low Ground

War & Peace

OBAMA: “WE TORTURED SOME FOLKS”

President Barack Obama has acknowledged that the United States tortured detainees during the ongoing 13-year war against terrorism.

Speaking at a Friday White House press conference, Obama discussed various issues, including the wars in Gaza and Ukraine, the economy and the border refugee crisis, criticizing congressional Republicans for failing to pass an emergency funding bill that would address the issue.

Obama also spoke about the scandal involving CIA surveillance of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) computers. Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan apologized on Thursday for the agency’s unconstitutional spying on SSCI members, who were investigating CIA torture of terrorism suspects as they prepared a soon-to-be released report.

“When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line,” said Obama.

“We tortured some folks,” he continued. “We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

The president then expressed empathy with the Bush administration officials and military and intelligence operatives who authorized and committed torture.

“I understand why it happened,” he said:

“I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and a plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.”

“It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had,” Obama continued. “A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure, and they are real patriots. But having said that, we did some things that were wrong.”

Obama also said he had “full confidence” in Brennan, despite the agency’s woes.

The president’s remarks marked the first time he has explicitly stated that the United States tortured terrorism suspects. In 2009, he admitted that the interrupted drowning technique known as waterboarding is torture and was a “mistake.”

While campaigning for his first presidential term in 2008, Obama pledged to hold the Bush officials responsible for torture accountable. But he broke that promise after taking office, explaining he was “more interested in looking forward than… in looking backwards.”

Not only did Obama refuse to prosecute anyone in connection with the illegal torture of terror suspects, the Justice Department provided legal aid for John Yoo, the Bush lawyer who authored a memo claiming anti-torture laws did not apply to overseas terror detainees. The DOJ also attempted to stop torture victims from suing Yoo.

Both US and international law clearly state that failure to prosecute those responsible for torture is itself a war crime.

At its worst, abuse of terrorism suspects and other detainees, many of them innocent men, women and children, involved homiciderape, imprisonment of relatives as bargaining chips, exposure to sometimes lethally extreme temperatures and brutal beatings.

Torture and abuse ran rampant at the US military prison at Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

Torture and abuse ran rampant at the US military prison at Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

While killing and rape were not among the abuses authorized by the Bush administration, waterboarding, sexual humiliationmenacing with dogs‘music torture,’ sleep deprivationwall-slamming, shackling in excruciating ‘stress positions,’ sensory deprivation and other tortures banned under domestic and international law were among the US-approved ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques inflicted on detainees.

SSCI chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who has reviewed the committee’s CIA torture report, said it “chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”

“This is not what Americans do,” asserted Feinstein.

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