I appreciate that Obama actually speaks to the public as adults, and am sympathetic to the ridiculous amount of challenges before him, many with powerful, entrenched interests against him, and an conscienceless, obstructionist minority party. (Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I want him to succeed, and plenty of conservatives do, too.) In the speech, Obama offered some on-target critiques to puncture some of the astounding idiocy of our national discourse, particularly the current fear-mongering over terrorists killing everyone in their beds after escaping from prison.
However, the speech had plenty of troubling sections, too. Dan Froomkin has a great overview (emphasis mine):
But in some parts of his speech, Obama appeared to be defending actions and even taking positions that didn't live up to his own professed standards.
When it came to what to do with the detainees at Guantanamo, he declared that he would work to create a system that would enable the indefinite detention without trial for a limited number of people whom the government is unable to prosecute for past crimes, but whom are nevertheless considered to be threats to the country. Even though he spoke of establishing lawful standards and periodic reviews, that's a dangerously extreme policy proposal. He once again expressed his intention to use a reformed military commission process for some detainees -- but gave no reason to think it won't run into many of the same legal challenges that Bush's process did. He spoke of sending many detainees to face trial in federal courts -- but then promised that no one would be released who endangers our national security. The whole point of a fair judicial system is that the executive can't guarantee the results.
Obama spoke passionately about his commitment to transparency, but offered up the same lousy and unpersuasive excuses he did last week for his decision to fight the court-ordered release of more photos of prison abuse. In particular, the weight he put on his responsibility not to release information that would inflame our enemies was deeply disturbing.
He offered no additional clarity regarding his position on the state secrets doctrine, where his lofty promises still stand in dramatic conflict with what his administration is actually doing.
And in continuing to oppose the creation of an independent commission that would fully investigate the abuses of the Bush administration, he marginalized those of us who want to find out what happened as polarizers, much like those who continue to doggedly defend Bush policies. He said the recent debate has obscured the truth -- when all we want is to let it free.
See also Glenn Greenwald, DDay and Digby. As they say, look at Obama's actions. And what disappoints me about Obama is the many places he's running things too closely to the horribly ineffective Bush playbook – as captured in this Tom Toles cartoon. It'd be one thing if Obama were letting Attorney General Eric Holder do his job and enforce the law when it came to Bush era abuses, but DDay's piece passes on a troubling report:
On at least one issue, though, Obama seems to have made up his mind. Isikoff reports that Obama announced his opposition to torture prosecutions--an unsurprising admission, perhaps, but one that must have disappointed many in attendance. Previously he had said that the question of investigation and prosecuting Bush administration officials was one for Holder to answer. But with Holder sitting right beside him, there's no doubt he's feeling pressure to, as they say, look forward, not backward.
If this is true, it's not good. I'm glad Obama's meeting with civil rights groups, but we've seen that the GOP will not stop gross abuses of power voluntarily. I understand Obama not publicly leading the charge on an investigation, and he was correct that Congress and the courts can proceed. But the Justice Department can and should, and is in fact legally obligated to do so. The Departments of Defense, Treasury, Energy, and Health and Human Services all have steep tasks ahead of them, but that's why there's more than one department in the government and more than one cabinet official. While I continue to hope the best for Obama and his administration, there is absolutely no scenario where public pressure to do the right thing won't make things better. We need a full investigation into human rights abuses (and on Wall Street, among other places). These aren't distractions, they're the tasks at hand, and essential to address for a successful long game.
(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)