Some things in life need to be mysterious. Sometimes you need to just keep walking.”
— Peggy Noonan (Wall Street Journal columnist and former special assistant to President Reagan) criticizing release of torture memos
One issue that distinguished Barack Obama from most of his competitors (Dennis Kucinich being the exception) is his opposition to the war against Iraq from its inception. He opposed it on both practical and moral grounds. On this, and many other issues, Obama made morality a central theme of his candidacy.
Many have questioned the morality of decisions made during the Bush administration including invading Iraq, warrantless wiretaps, the firing of federal prosecutors, unregulated greed on Wall Street, holding prisoners without due process at Guantanamo Bay, among others. And, the use of torture.
Waterboarding has been considered a form of torture since the the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Attorney General Eric Holder has explicitly classified waterboarding as torture. The United States has prosecuted our own soldiers as well as foreign soldiers for subjecting prisoners to waterboarding. President Obama, in one of his first acts as President, signed an Executive Order that effectively reestablished a ban on the use of any interrogation technique “that is not authorized by and listed in Army Field Manual.”
So if waterboarding was, and is, illegal, why is President Obama not fully supporting an investigation into those who authorized, or carried out, the use of torture? Why is he not applying the moral certitude he conveyed during the election to this issue? The jury remains out on what will happen next. My concern is that President Obama and his spokespeople use language that is in line with Peggy Noonan’s quote above.
Our nation has a long history of choosing to “just keep walking.” We have not fully dealt with the terror and injustice inflicted upon people of African descent through slavery and Jim Crow or of the subjugation and annihilation of American Indian people. The consequences of not coming to terms with our past continue haunt our present and will haunt our future. Present-day injustices and inequities are rooted in our history, both distant and recent. Not recognizing this and dealing with them is like ignoring a growing mole on your back that may well turn out to be cancerous.
During his inaugural address Barack Obama said,
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.
President Obama has made morality the central theme of both his candidacy and now his presidency. To claim the ideal of being a moral nation we cannot just keep walking. This is no time for expediency. We must pause and investigate. We must evaluate. We must live with the consequences. We must learn. Only then can we continue walking with the full knowledge that we are doing our best to live up to our nation’s ideals.