This op-ed was originally published at Rare on December 18, 2014.
There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the release of the highly anticipated report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence detailing the unusual and incredibly harsh interrogation tactics used by the Central Intelligence Agency after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Most Republicans blasted the release of the report, calling it biased while claiming that it would incite more violence against the United States and cost American lives. Democrats, on the other hand, hailed the release of the report and the Obama administration’s efforts to end the controversial program.
President Barack Obama weighed in on the release of the report in a statement from the White House, in which he said “one of our most effective tools in fighting terrorism and keeping Americans safe is staying true to our ideals at home and abroad.”
“The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States, and it reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests,” he said. “Moreover, these techniques did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners.”
It is interesting whenever elected officials, particularly presidents, talk about “our values” as a nation. Some of the statements made are reasonable, but others highlight measures of extreme hypocrisy.
In the case of President Obama, “our values,” as he defines them, mean that torture is a completely unacceptable means to obtain intelligence from terrorists and those accused of terrorist activity. He is right. There is evidence which indicates that little actionable information comes out of the torture of terrorist suspects. Moreover, 25 percent of detainees subjected to torture were innocent.
But, at the same time, this administration insists that it is perfectly reasonable to ignore the rights to privacy and due process in the name of fighting terrorism.
As a candidate for the Oval Office, then-Sen. Obama was one of the most vocal critics of illegal wiretapping conducted under President George W. Bush’s administration. In 2007, for example, Mr. Obama slammed the “false choice” put forward by the Bush administration “between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.”
“I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom,” he said. “That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who aren’t suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. That is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists.”
Last year, however, Americans were informed that the National Security Agency is collecting metadata of their phone calls. Apparently, the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” is not part of “our values” as a nation. At least that is what President Obama has suggested in his defenses of the vast warrantless spying apparatus, as well as his continued reauthorization of this form of domestic surveillance.
The Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process also does not fit into President Obama’s definition of “our values.” In September 2011, the administration, using a peculiar, specious legal authority concocted by the Justice Department, assassinated two American citizens — including Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam and Islamic radical — who were suspected of terrorist activity, though never formally charged, indicted, or convicted.
Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who was also an American citizen, was killed in a separate drone strike a couple of weeks later. The innocent boy, who had been searching for his father in Yemen, was reportedly eating at a diner with friends, all of whom were killed in the strike.
Separately, though just as important, there is the CIA’s drones program, through which targeted assassinations of foreign terrorists are carried out. While the line has been definitively drawn on torture not being part of “our values,” drone strikes have been a go-to for the administration.
These strikes have had a tremendous negative effect on innocent civilians in Pakistan and other countries in the Middle East. Hundreds of Pakistanis — men, women, and children with no connection to terrorist activity — have been killed in U.S.-backed drone strikes. The physiological effects of the strikes are just as devastating.
The values of the founding fathers — those which make us unique from the rest of the world — have become obscured by the opaque policies of President Obama, who has, whether his apologists want to admit it or not, precariously advanced presidential power, leaving the door wide open for abuses by his successors.