Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Dark Chapter in American History

Jane Mayer's swift and thorough takedown of Marc A. Thiessen's Courting Disaster, a new book that tries to defend the Bush Administration's use of torture, includes this trenchant point, among many others:

Tellingly, Thiessen does not address the many false confessions given by detainees under torturous pressure, some of which have led the U.S. tragically astray. Nowhere in this book, for instance, does the name Ibn Sheikh al-Libi appear. In 2002, the C.I.A., under an expanded policy of extraordinary rendition, turned Libi over to Egypt to be brutalized. Under duress, Libi falsely linked Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s alleged biochemical-weapons program, in Iraq. In February, 2003, former Secretary of State Colin Powell gave an influential speech in which he made the case for going to war against Iraq and prominently cited this evidence.

Talk about an epic fail.

Mayer ends, however, with a criticism of Obama:

The publication of “Courting Disaster” suggests that Obama’s avowed determination “to look forward, not back” has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.

Nevertheless, I can imagine why Obama didn't convene a commission. Doing so would be an expenditure of political capital to further discredit an abandoned policy that has already been amply investigated, perhaps most effectively by Mayer herself. I'm not sure that a government commission would prevent partisan reinterpretation now or prevent more torture from happening in some distant future.

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