Salting the Wound

By Emma Steiner

Last Thursday, Gina Haspel was confirmed as the director of the CIA after a nomination process fraught with questions about her complicity in destroying tapes of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program. Democratic senators hemmed and hawed, first displaying support, then retracting it as public opinion ebbed and flowed and questions began to pile up. When it came down to the vote, however, six Democrats broke ranks and voted to confirm, saying that while they did not approve of Haspel’s earlier actions, they were confident that she would no longer partake in such indecorous actions as torture and obstruction of justice. They trusted her to be a guiding hand for the CIA. Another senator cited the lack of accountability for torturers and their enablers, saying that her actions must be held to a “similar standard as previous nominees:” that is to say, none. Confronted with a staggering record of moral apathy, the Democrats and their colleagues choose the easiest option every time: why deal with the weight of the past when it is so crushing and so incriminating?

The Democrats who voted to enable this should feel ashamed. The fact that they do not, and that their statements only show hesitance with regards to public reaction, is as big an indictment as any. They are not capable of feeling the shame that they should when confronted with our country’s horrifying record of terror. Two of the Democrats who voted to confirm Haspel are members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Sens. Manchin and Warner) so supposedly, they are more informed than their colleagues about the actions that the CIA perpetrates in our name. And yet, when brought face to face with the declassified, uncensored truth, they turn away. It hurts their eyes.

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A Case for Transitional Justice

By Emma Steiner

The Trump administration has dissected, denounced, decried and dissolved many of the Obama administration’s actions. That the current president is so set on undoing his predecessor’s accomplishments should not keep those on the left from evaluating the Obama administration as well, especially through the lens of inaction. Why were no top-level bankers prosecuted for their role in the financial crisis of 2008? Why have so few Bush-era officials had to answer for their crimes, ranging from “enhanced interrogation” to the Iraq invasion? When bringing up Obama’s inaction, the standard response is: what else could be done? What would you have done? It is becoming clear that much more could have been done if not for the Obama administration’s lack of political will and optimistic desire to break continuity with the practices of the past. If sunlight is the best disinfectant, a failure to apply it leaves a festering wound, with complications that continue to amass.

In 2009, Obama was asked whether he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and potentially act against Bush officials who had committed crimes. He did not rule out the possibility, but said that his intention was to “look forward.” Very little action was taken until, in the wake of the 2014 torture report, Obama admitted, “We tortured some folks,” and his DOJ issued some memos denouncing extrajudicial interrogation. That was the full extent of action taken, and Obama’s administration went on to commit its own human rights abuses, ranging from escalation of drone warfare to full-scale NSA surveillance on Americans. Afraid of appearing partisan, the Obama administration looked the other way when it came to prosecuting war criminals and torturers. The lack of confrontation is coming back to haunt us.

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