Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The CIA Report Is The Purloined Letter and Obama Is The Prefect: My Break-Up Letter to President Obama

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some 
things that were wrong.  We did a whole lot of things 
that were right, but we tortured some folks.
-- President Barack Obama, Press Conference (Aug 1, 2014)

"That is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, 
who had a fashion of calling everything "odd" that was
beyond his comprehension, and thus lived in an absolute 
legion of "oddities."
-- Edgar Allen Poe, "The Purloined Letter" (1845)

I don't suspect that President Barack Obama reads most of his mail. I am 100% certain that whoever reads his mail would certainly not pass this letter on to him.  That said, I am confident that there are millions of Americans who have, as I've often described my situation to Ideas Man PhD, had their political (and real) hearts broken by President Obama over and over again.  This is my "I quit you" letter to our Commander-in-Chief, who is not up for re-election, of course, but it's gotta be said.

Dear President Obama,

In your press conference last Friday addressing the U.S. Senate's decision to declassify the CIA's "Torture Report," which details so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" approved by the Bush Administration post-9/11, you finally lent state authority to a truth that has been evident for at least a decade: the United States sanctioned and practiced torture as a matter of official anti-terrorism state policy.  That this horrible truth is true should come as a surprise to no one.  We saw the photos from Abu Ghraib released in 2004, we knew about the "torture memos" as early as 2009, we've spent the last dozen years as an electorate officially and unofficially debating the moral permissibility of torture, what "counts" as torture, how we might mitigate and/or disavow our responsibility for torture, even being entertained by the fantastical/fictional playing out of all our ambivalence on the matter.  Torture has been the pink noise of American life since 9/11, producing a sound that could be heard, but is designed such that its power rolls off at higher frequencies, masks aural distractions, soothes and at the same time becomes lost in other noises.

But that sound was always there. You should have heard it long ago.  And unlike the sound of actual torture, it should have been and should have remained deafening to you for every second that you have occupied the Oval Office.  You could have always heard it if you had made the effort to listen, to not be distracted, to not allow yourself to be lulled into sleep by its tranquilizing and insidious diversion.

I voted for you in 2008 and again (more reluctantly) in 2012.  The first time was an easy decision, as I had had my fill of the Bush Administration's love-affair with the security state, its neglect of the poor and working classes, its rampant disregard for the rule of law, its coddling of big business, its war on women, its disavowal of the United Nations and its indefensible ignorance with regard to foreign policy. The second time I voted for you was more difficult and was, in fact, the choice of a lesser evil.  Your first administration did not deliver the promised "change I could believe in."  You balked on women's and LGBTQ rights repeatedly, you did not close Guantanamo Bay (which was your very first Executive Directive when you took office), you not only continued but doubled-down on some of the worst Bush-era war practices (see: drones), and you slid right into the Bush-shaped hole in big business' bed with the pathological ease of an jilted lover.  So, when I heard your unassuming, plain-speak admission last Friday that "we tortured some folks," which (as far as I can tell) you said without any irony whatsoever, you lost me completely.

I was reminded, while watching your press conference this past Friday, of Edgar Allen Poe's famous short-story "The Purloined Letter," in which a Prefect enlists the aid of Detective Dupin to help him locate a salacious letter, allegedly stolen by Minister D, implicating an unnamed female.  As I'm sure you are aware, it turns out that the thief, Minister D, hid the letter in plain sight in his residence, a fact that Dupin discovers after deducing that Minister D would have surely anticipated that the Prefect would expect him to hide it cleverly and, thus, that the Prefect would have never looked to find the letter right under his nose.  Since you are a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, I'll spare you the many important (and, in this case, all too relevant) philosophical/psychoanalytic interpretations of Poe's story and get straight to the metaphorical point.

The CIA Torture Report is the purloined letter.  And you are the Prefect.

I'm leaving aside for the moment the incredible bad taste of your "folksy" reference to the countless and unnamed poor, unfortunate souls who were tortured at the hands of U.S. state-sanctioned agents. Instead, I just want to call you out on your unpardonable and indefensibly culpable pretension of ignorance. I've written a great deal about torture on this blog before, in almost every case in the service of debunking the lies that the U.S. has told and continues to tell about its complicity in that absolutely inexcusable practice over the last thirteen years, but never have I found myself so utterly disgusted by such a willing and willingly naive reluctance on the part of a Head of State to pretend that a gross wrong-- in fact, by definition, a gross violation of human rights-- has been committed with the full knowledge and sanction of his State.

Shame on you, President Obama.  Shame on us all.

The Prefect in Poe's story, as you know, tries to figure Dupin's acuity and discernment as an "oddity," revealing instead (as he inadvertently does) that Dupin has accomplished nothing more extraordinary than to see what has always and ever been right there before him. None of us, least of all you, President Obama, live amidst a legion of oddities. To think so is to demonstrate your own blindness, not the cleverness of your evaders.

Leigh M. Johnson

(This post also cross-posted at NewAPPSblog)

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