Friday, May 22, 2009

A Tale of Two Speeches and a Tale of Two Obamas

Yesterday I posted an entry prior to, what the media was dubbing as, the "dueling speeches" between President Obama and Vice President Cheney on anti-terrorism policy.

President Obama went first and gave a speech that was highly critical of the Bush Administration's policies over the last eight years:

Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. I believe that many of these decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight; that all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.


the decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable -- a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions, and that failed to use our values as a compass. And that's why I took several steps upon taking office to better protect the American people.

Obama went on to condemn waterboarding and torture, defend his decision to close the military base at Guantanamo Bay, and assure the people of the United States that we are a country that adheres to the rule of law and to the Constitution. It was a good speech that was well delivered and spoke very eloquently about the United States as a country that is obligated to respect and adhere to the principles upon which it was founded.

As expected, Dick Cheney's speech was sharply critical of President Obama for the decisions that he has made since being elected to the Presidency. Cheney also defending the decision made by the Bush Administration as well as the legacy that their policies have left behind:

What is equally certain is this: The broad-based strategy set in motion by President Bush obviously had nothing to do with causing the events of 9/11. But the serious way we dealt with terrorists from then on, and all the intelligence we gathered in that time, had everything to do with preventing another 9/11 on our watch. The enhanced interrogations of high-value detainees and the terrorist surveillance program have without question made our country safer. Every senior official who has been briefed on these classified matters knows of specific attacks that were in the planning stages and were stopped by the programs we put in place.

There have been some good reactions and observations on both speeches and I would like to share a few of them with you. First is the assessment that McClatchy Newspapers gave of Dick Cheney's speech in which they say that Cheney "ignored some inconvenient truths" in his speech. Here are a few examples from the McClatchy piece:

_ Cheney denied that there was any connection between the Bush administration's interrogation policies and the abuse of detainee at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, which he blamed on "a few sadistic guards . . . in violation of American law, military regulations and simple decency."

However, a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report in December traced the abuses at Abu Ghraib to the approval of the techniques by senior Bush administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own," said the report issued by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz. "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality and authorized their use against detainees."


_ Cheney said that only "ruthless enemies of this country" were detained by U.S. operatives overseas and taken to secret U.S. prisons.

A 2008 McClatchy investigation, however, found that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees captured in 2001 and 2002 in Afghanistan and Pakistan were innocent citizens or low-level fighters of little intelligence value who were turned over to American officials for money or because of personal or political rivalries.

In addition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Oct. 5, 2005, that the Bush administration had admitted to her that it had mistakenly abducted a German citizen, Khaled Masri, from Macedonia in January 2004.

Masri reportedly was flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where he allegedly was abused while being interrogated. He was released in May 2004 and dumped on a remote road in Albania.

In January 2007, the German government issued arrest warrants for 13 alleged CIA operatives on charges of kidnapping Masri.


_ Cheney said that, in assessing the security environment after 9-11, the Bush team had to take into account "dictators like Saddam Hussein with known ties to Mideast terrorists."

Cheney didn't explicitly repeat the contention he made repeatedly in office: that Saddam cooperated with al Qaida, a linkage that U.S. intelligence officials and numerous official inquiries have rebutted repeatedly.

The late Iraqi dictator's association with terrorists vacillated and was mostly aimed at quashing opponents and critics at home and abroad.

The last State Department report on international terrorism to be released before 9-11 said that Saddam's regime "has not attempted an anti-Western terrorist attack since its failed plot to assassinate former President (George H.W.) Bush in 1993 in Kuwait."

A Pentagon study released last year, based on a review of 600,000 Iraqi documents captured after the U.S.-led invasion, concluded that while Saddam supported militant Palestinian groups — the late terrorist Abu Nidal found refuge in Baghdad, at least until Saddam had him killed — the Iraqi security services had no "direct operational link" with al Qaida.

Cheney's speech was quite typical of speeches that were given by various Bush Administration officials during their time in office. They mischaracterized facts, omitted contrary information, and flat-out lied in order to defend their lawless and reckless behavior. Instead of once again tearing down the neo-conservative agenda for the remainder of this post, let's return to the President.

There has also been some worthy criticism of Barack Obama's speech as being well delivered, but meaningless considering the actions that he has taken since he has taken office. Glenn Greenwald provides his insight:

The speech was fairly representative of what Obama typically does: effectively defend some important ideals in a uniquely persuasive way and advocating some policies that promote those ideals (closing Guantanamo, banning torture tactics, limiting the state secrets privilege) while committing to many which plainly violate them (indefinite preventive detention schemes, military commissions, denial of habeas rights to Bagram abductees, concealing torture evidence, blocking judicial review on secrecy grounds). Like all political officials, Obama should be judged based on his actions and decisions, not his words and alleged intentions and motives. Those actions in the civil liberties realm, with some exceptions, have been profoundly at odds with his claimed principles, and this speech hasn't changed that. Only actions will.

I agree with Greenwald's mixed reaction. Obama does a good job at making some very important points and arguments surrounding the need to refocus the country on the values and principles that we have strayed from in the last eight years. Within the same speech however, Obama openly argues for extending old policies and implementing new ones that violate the very areas to which he seeks recommittal.

dday echoes these sentiments:

So in public, the President gave a pretty speech about upholding the rule of law, but inside the White House, he vows not to uphold it, to do precisely the opposite of what he claims to believe makes us "who we are as a people." In fact, it does violence to the rule of law for the President to even decide who does and does not get prosecuted, as that is nowhere near within his jurisdiction. And as each new revelation about criminal activity committed at the highest levels comes out, the hollowness of Obama's rhetoric becomes more and more clear

Rachel Maddow also did a fantastic job at observing the same on her program last night:

Will Obama supporters now be in favor of so-called "prolonged detention"? It seems as though those who opposed "indefinite detention" under President Bush should oppose "prolonged detention" if they are being intellectually honest.

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