The Untamed Prince

Marc Ambinder reports on the dictatorial powers held by many in government and upheld yesterday by a judiciary that gives unaccountable power - even the power to torture and kill - a drop-shadow, not a check. Marc has been following this state secrets issue for a long time, sensing, before some others did, that it was the key to Obama's protection of Bush's torturers and his objective disdain for the tortured.

Greenwald - another early skeptic - notes that this is not news, however shocking it appears. In 2008, many of us supported Obama in part because he seemed to be a rare candidate who understood the awful potential of government-sanctioned torture to harm us in the war against Jihadism, to eviscerate core American values, and to empower the executive to new and unassailable heights in ways the Founders would have been horrified by. I always knew that Clinton would have little trouble with executive power's reach, and her speech yesterday about the importance and value of American power to direct the planet reveals her comfort with the vast, unwieldy, unaccountable, incredibly expensive apparatus that now pledges to protect us from all evil and solve every global problem - but gives us no way to know how or 466px-Portrait_of_Niccolò_Machiavelli_by_Santi_di_Tito where or when if it invokes secrecy with this kind of glib facility. Fareed is right about this. Imaginationland lives.

And Obama? I see no daylight between him and Clinton any more on this. As Glenn notes, Obama as executive quickly co-opted the kind of blanket secrecy and protection of the national security apparatus from the rule of law that plagued us in the Bush-Cheney administration. Yes, torture ended. That matters a huge amount. He will always deserve credit for that. Of course, I have to trust him on this, since there is precious little way for someone outside the government to test this or know this for sure.

But Obama's insistence on protecting every Bush era war criminal and every Bush era war crime from any redress or even scrutiny is a sign both of how cold-blooded he can be, but more, I think, of how powerful the security state now is, how it can protect itself, how it exists independently of any real accountability to anyone, how even the metrics of judging it are beyond the citizen's reach or understanding.

I tried valiantly not to believe this of Holder and Obama for months; I tried to see their legitimate concerns about exposing a war machine when it is still at war; I understand the need for some extraordinary renditions; and the necessity for executive power in emergencies to act swiftly, as the Founders intended. Yes war requires some secrecy. But Obama has gone much further than this now. The cloak of secrecy he is invoking is not protecting national security but protecting war crimes. And this is now inescapably his cloak. He is therefore a clear and knowing accessory to war crimes, and should at some point face prosecution as well, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything any more. This won't happen in my lifetime, barring a miracle. Because Obama was a test case. If an outsider like him, if a constitutional scholar like him, at a pivotal moment for accountability like the last two years, cannot hold American torturers to account, there is simply no accountability for American torture. When the CIA actually rehires as a contractor someone who held a power-drill against the skull of a prisoner, you know that change from within this system is impossible. The system is too powerful. It protects itself. It makes a mockery of the rule of law. It doesn't only allow torture; it rewards it.

2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan

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