A Defense of Barack Obama's Release of the Interrogation Memos
With televisions in waiting rooms and on the street, radio programs on 24 hours a day, and web sites accessible to nearly everyone, information is flying at a faster rate than ever before. Similarly, the old adage that knowledge is power has certainly become truer than ever in these modern times. People are able to know which neighborhoods to avoid when a criminal is on the loose and what precautions to take in the event of a health crisis. Still, is it possible for the public to know too much? Some would certainly say, "yes." If people know privileged information that was previously available only to the government, then some would argue that the government's security is compromised and all citizens are at risk from attack. Others, however, argue that the government is the biggest enemy, and allowing the government to be less than transparent with all of its information is putting others in danger. A practical realization of this debate is currently raging throughout the United States. President Barack Obama, in the midst of controversy, released CIA memos detailing interrogation methods, which many consider torture, that were used during the previous administration. The motives for Obama's decision were complex. Some might argue that social justice fueled the motives behind Obama's release of the memos. According to Mazzetti, the president refused to prosecute those named in the document. Perhaps he was simply fueled by a desire to expose the torture in order to improve a social injustice. As the administration was being sued for the records, legal motivations are also involved. In addition Mazzetti implies political motivations when he quotes White House Council would "put distance" between president Obama and George W. Bush (para. 10). Regardless of his motivations, Obama's release of the memos was the right decision because it forces social attention on the issue, satisfy the white house's law suit, and establishes a new threshold of transparency and protection for American citizens.
Obama's decision to release the CIA memos forced social attention onto the issue, encouraging both members of the government and civilians to consider the issue and come up with unique viewpoints. Obama's comment that "it is a 'time for reflection, not retribution'" implies the need for citizens to consider the issue. It seems that Obama has accomplished this goal, as since his decision news channels, blogs, and personal conversations have been buzzing about the topic. Certainly, Obama's decision to release the memos has encouraged people to pay attention to the methods the United States and other countries use to interrogate their prisoners and consider the moral implications of these methods. Describing the interrogation methods in extreme detail, the memos allow the public to consider the reality of what is happening on American soil. Before the release of these memos, the American public was discussing the issue, but within a veil of secrecy, as no one could say for sure what tactics were being used, and wide speculation was being employed. Today, however, the memos have allowed commentators to make statements like the following: "The words sound like something from a Nazi interrogation manual" (Medeiros). In his description of the memos, Medeiros, who writes for a left-wing political web site, makes his opinion about the torture known. He refers to some grizzly descriptions, and expresses his outrage that the memos were originally used to justify such techniques. Further, Medeiros draws historical examples to show why the United States made such a great humanitarian error by allowing this type of interrogation to take place. The author states that "the United States once prosecuted Japanese interrogators for war crimes after they used similar methods during World War II. Incredibly, the Obama Administration has announced it will not take legal action against CIA torturers, saying they were 'relying in good faith on legal advice.' Nor is any action planned against the top Bush Administration officials in the Justice Department and White House who authorized this program" (Medeiros para. 7). Although opposition to Medeiros's argument may be equally valid, his comments prove that Obama's decision to release the memos have drawn social attention to the issue. As Medeiros ends his article on the issue by calling for real change, readers can see that the social attention focused on the issue can accomplish something more than just encouraging people to form different opinions. Instead, it can help chance occur, as public opinion eventually inspires lobbying and chance through democratic means. In much the same way, public opinion may eventually affirm the use of torture, making it legal through legislation. Regardless, Obama's decision to release the classified memos has accomplished its goal by drawing social attention to the issue and encouraging change through democratic means, instead of simply applying methods that have not been reviewed by the public or the democratic process.
Those who suggest that citizens do not have a right or responsibility to deal with such matters can quite easily find opposition to this argument. This argument suggests that professionals should be left to make decisions regarding international security without the interference of public opinion or democratic means. Those who believe this generally tend to think this is the safer option. C.I.A. Director Leon E. Panetta articulated this view when he attempted to persuade Obama not to reveal "sensitive details," suggesting that they would "jeopardize the C.I.A.'s relationship with foreign intelligence services," in addition to revealing details to possible enemies (Mazzetti para. 8). In addition Mazetti points out that the C.I.A. is particularly worries about a "full-blown congressional investigation into covert activities under the Bush Administration" -- something that can be seen as a positive result of the release of these documents by those who believe social inquiry into the topic can achieve justice (para. 9). In fact, because the C.I.A. is so concerned about an investigation, some may even wonder if they do, indeed, have something to hide, something that does not necessarily protect the safety of Americans. In either case, this argument can be quickly refuted with the fact that United States is, at heart, a republic that has put democratic institutions into place in order to allow the people to make decisions regarding the values of the United States. While certain matters of national security must be left up to the officials who can best deal with them, the question of American values comes down to the opinion of the American people -- not the current administration. Because this issue is one that is so closely linked with value and morality, it is up to the American people to make a decision regarding its appropriateness.
In addition to forcing social attention onto the issue, President Obama's decision to release the memos also satisfies the lawsuit brought against the White House. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the White House for release of the memos, and faced with a time constraint, president Obama decided to comply, although numerous sources remark that he spent a great deal of time thinking about the matter, as well as seeking council, before his decision to do this (Allen, Mazzetti). After the release of the memos, the White House would no longer be facing a lawsuit from this group. A special interest group that focuses on preserving freedom, as well as restoring rights to those "that have traditionally been denied their rights," the American Civil Liberties Union has become involved in many court cases that have to do with a person's freedom ("About Us"). In this particular case, the American Civil Liberties Union was defending the people's right to knowledge and classified information. By releasing the documents, President Obama sent a message that suggested transparency was an important value of his administration. In fact, the president even said, "While I believe strongly in transparency and accountability, I also believe that in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security" (Stein). This statement articulates the difficult decision that President Obama had to make regarding whether he should continue to fight the ACLU or release the documents. His decision to release the documents was the right decision, partly, because it satisfied the ACLU's requirements. While the opposition may argue that Obama simply decided to give in to the demands of an external organization without standing up for the safety of the American people, the opposite is actually true. President Obama's long thinking over of the issue allowed him to get his priorities straight, and he realized that he needed to let the American people know that transparency was important to him. Thus, by satisfying the ACLU's demands, he sends the world the message that he is willing to be an open and transparent presidency.
Thus, through his decision to release the memos detailing acts of torture, President Obama set new standards for both transparency and safety for American citizens. The new threshold of transparency and safety holds the government accountable…