Keith Olbermann Special Comment : ‘Mr. President, You are Wrong.’

Keith Olbermann, Special Comment, Countdown, April 16, 2009

U.S. future depends on torture accountability

We cannot let mistakes of the past haunt our future.

By Keith Olbermann / April 16, 2009

[The following was delivered as a “Special Comment” by commentator Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s Countdown, April 16, 2009.]

As promised, a Special Comment now on the president’s revelation of the remainder of this nightmare of Bush Administration torture memos. This President has gone where few before him, dared. The dirty laundry — illegal, un-American, self-defeating, self-destroying — is out for all to see.

Mr. Obama deserves our praise and our thanks for that. And yet he has gone but half-way. And, in this case, in far too many respects, half the distance is worse than standing still. Today, Mr. President, in acknowledging these science-fiction-like documents, you said that:

“This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke.”

“We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history.

“But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.

Mr. President, you are wrong. What you describe would be not “spent energy” but catharsis.

Not “blame laid,” but responsibility ascribed. You continued:

“Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.”

Indeed we must, Mr. President. And the forces of which you speak are the ones lingering — with pervasive stench — from the previous administration. Far more than a criminal stench, Sir. An immoral one. One we cannot let be re-created.

One, President Obama, it is your responsibility to make sure cannot be re-created. Forgive me for quoting from a Comment I offered the night before the inauguration. But this goes to the core of the President’s commendable, but wholly naive, intention. This country has never “moved forward with confidence”.without first cleansing itself of its mistaken past.

In point of fact, every effort to merely draw a line in the sand and declare the past dead has served only to keep the past alive and often to strengthen it. We “moved forward” with slavery in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And four score and nine years later, we had buried 600,000 of our sons and brothers, in a Civil War.

After that war’s ending, we “moved forward” without the social restructuring — and protection of the rights of minorities — in the south. And a century later, we had not only not resolved anything, but black leaders were still being assassinated in our southern cities.

We “moved forward” with Germany in the reconstruction of Europe after the First World War.

Nobody even arrested the German Kaiser, let alone conducted war crimes trials then. And 19 years later, there was an indescribably more evil Germany and a more heart-rending Second World War.

We “moved forward” with the trusts of the early 1900s. And today, we are at the mercy of corporations too big to fail. We “moved forward” with the Palmer Raids and got McCarthyism.

And we “moved forward” with McCarthyism and got Watergate. We “moved forward” with Watergate and junior members of the Ford administration realized how little was ultimately at risk.

They grew up to be Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. But, Mr. President, when you say we must “come together on behalf of our common future” you are entirely correct. We must focus on getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.

That means prosecuting all those involved in the Bush administration’s torture of prisoners, even if the results are nominal punishments, or merely new laws. Your only other option is to let this set and fester indefinitely. Because, Sir, some day there will be another Republican president, or even a Democrat just as blind as Mr. Bush to ethics and this country’s moral force. And he will look back to what you did about Mr. Bush. Or what you did not do.

And he will see precedent. Or as Cheney saw, he will see how not to get caught next time. Prosecute, Mr. President. Even if you get not one conviction, you will still have accomplished good for generations unborn. Merely by acting, you will deny a further wrong — that this construction will enter the history books: Torture was legal. It worked. It saved the country.

The end. This must not be. “It is our intention,” you said today, “to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.” Mr. President, you are making history’s easiest, most often made, most dangerous mistake — you are accepting the defense that somebody was “just following orders.” At the end of his first year in office, Mr. Lincoln tried to contextualize the Civil War for those who still wanted to compromise with evils of secession and slavery. “The struggle of today,” Lincoln wrote, “is not altogether for today. It is for a vast future also.”

Mr. president, you have now been handed the beginning of that future. Use it to protect our children and our distant descendants from anything like this ever happening again — by showing them that those who did this, were neither unfairly scapegoated nor absolved. It is good to say “we won’t do it again.” It is not, however…enough.

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3 Responses to Keith Olbermann Special Comment : ‘Mr. President, You are Wrong.’

  1. I agree with this wonderful article 100%. I guess the only thing that makes me wonder why he isn’t is possibly because he fears for some type of potential upheaval or even violence against he or his family.

    If the right wing is going ‘nuts’ with their tea-bagging, et. al., and all of this is based upon what GWB and his cronies did in the last 8 years, does he wonder what would happen if he actually carried this ‘full tilt’???

    The anger from the same idiots that have recently showed they’d demonstrate with their tea-bags, might turn to more than just tea-bags…..

    Given that most difficult decisions are not made by the ‘lone president’, but by a myriad of advisors; computer programs that calculate risks and render the results to those who have to manage these sensitive and serious issues, Obama (himself) might want to do something entirely different, but the ‘experts’ and those who’re trying to avoid an all-out crisis in this country by further division, could easily be telling him just how far to ‘step on this time-bomb’…..

    I know I’d never make a good president, because I’d refuse to listen to all those whispering in my ear; I’d step out – get the job done, and probably get my brains blown out but at least JUSTICE would be done.

    Again, I thought this summary was outstanding!

  2. Just a post-script; I worked for one of the most well-known political research organizations in this country. I know how they polled; then how they tabulated the data – delivered it to the White House, and then it was up to the advisors to go through the information and take it from there.

    We often get the idea that our president actually gets to use his brain and authority without interference…simply not true.

  3. Here a little bit of background about the pushing and shoving that was, and is, going on.
    I like the nomination of lawyer Koh that the Republicans threatened to filibuster IF the memos were released.

    ‘Holy Hell’ Over Torture Memos
    Attorney General Eric Holder wants to release classified Bush-era interrogation memos. But U.S. intel officials are fiercely lobbying the White House to block him from moving forward.

    If the president releases the Bush torture memos, Republicans are promising to “go nuclear” and filibuster his legal appointments. Scott Horton reports on a serious threat to Obama’s transparency.

    The Fight Over the Harold Koh Nomination: A Field Guide
    On March 24, the Obama administration nominated Harold Koh to be the State Department legal adviser, the agency’s top lawyer. So far, Koh’s nomination has generated cursory coverage in the papers. But online is another story,

    The memos were releassed– we will see what more happens in getting alive through a minefield — which needs cleanup.

    Also some controversy in Spain on proceeding on prosecution — one non-binding opinion is against — one clause in the Spanish universal jurisdiction law is that it is applicable only if the other country is NOT prosecuting.
    This is a long row to hoe, in clearing the mine field.

    I do think we certainly need some court cases. But the issues are larger than any one court case.
    A “truth commission”, as is being called for, would certainly help.

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