Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obama's Press Conference

is now posted on The New York Times' website.

On Torture:

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You've said in the past that waterboarding in your opinion is torture. And torture is a violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions. Do you believe that the previous administration sanctioned torture?

MR. OBAMA: "What I've said -- and I will repeat -- is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion; that's the opinion of many who've examined the topic. And that's why I put an end to these practices.

I am absolutely convinced that it was the right thing to do -- not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways -- in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.

I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British, during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "we don't torture," when the -- the entire British -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat. And -- and -- and the reason was that Churchill understood, you start taking shortcuts, and over time, that corrodes what's -- what's best in a people.

It corrodes the character of a country.

And -- and so I strongly believe that the steps that we've taken to prevent these kind of enhanced interrogation techniques will make us stronger over the long term, and make us safer over the long term, because it will put us in a -- in a position where we can still get information. In some cases, it may be harder. But part of what makes us, I think, still a beacon to the world is that we are willing to hold true to our ideals, even when it's hard, not just when it's easy.

At the same time, it takes away a critical recruitment tool that al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have used to try to demonize the United States and justify the killing of civilians. And it makes us -- it puts us in a much stronger position to work with our allies in the kind of international coordinated intelligence activity that can shut down these networks.

So this is a decision that I am very comfortable with, and I think the American people over time will recognize that it is better for us to stick to who we are, even when we're taking on a unscrupulous enemy."

Initial Reaction: Note the highlighted passages. Obama, it can be argued, is downplaying the significance of what happened. Yes, he is saying that the United States may have tortured those which it declared to be "enemy war combatants" but he refers to that analysis as "his opinion" and the "opinion" of others who have examined this issue when as a matter of fact this question as to whether torture was committed concerns laws violated and not policies disputed.

Note to what he said about the efficacy of torture. He would not emphatically reject the vice president's contention that its use might save lives. Conservatives will hound him on this topic tomorrow.

More here:

QUESTION: "Thank you, sir. Let me follow up, if I may, on Jake's question. Did you read the documents recently referred to by former Vice President Cheney and others, saying that the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques not only protected the nation but saved lives? And if part of the United States were under imminent threat, could you envision yourself ever authorizing the use of those enhanced interrogation techniques?"

PRESIDENT OBAMA: "I -- I have read the documents.

Now, they haven't been officially declassified and released. And so I don't want to go into the details of them.

But here's what I can tell you, that the public reports and the public justifications, for these techniques, which is that we got information, from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques, doesn't answer the core question which is, could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question, are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?

So when I made the decision to release these memos and when I made the decision to bar these practices, this was based on consultation with my entire national security team and based on my understanding that ultimately I will be judged, as commander in chief, on how safe I'm keeping the American people.

That's the responsibility I wake up with. And it's the responsibility I go to sleep with. And so I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe.

But I am absolutely convinced that the best way I can do that is to make sure that we are not taking shortcuts that undermine who we are.

And -- and there have been no circumstances during the course of this first hundred days in which I have seen information that would make me second-guess the decision that I've made. Okay?"

My Initial Reaction: I can agree with the president's analysis in its entirety (and I do) yet here he politically undermined his argument here. On this occasion, President Barack Obama was specifically asked to comment on the memos former Vice President Richard Cheney wants declassified and yet again, the president does not emphatically deny the former vice president's contention that the CIA successfully extracted some information from an enemy war combatant utilizing techniques President Barack Obama officially banned.

Unfortunately, I don't think the public in general is as high-minded as our president. I think they won't object to the use of torture if CIA can extract such information successfully, and to suggest, as the president does, that it doesn't answer the question of whether this information can be extracted via more legitimate methods is besides the point. It wants the CIA to extract that information as quickly as it can, so that the United States can respond before the terrorists strike. Since we as a whole expect the government to save our lives from the next strike, they would consider its status as a "short cut" as an asset, not a weakness.

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