Gibbs Refuses to Answer Torture Question in Public

With Dick Cheney boasting on national television of his support for waterboarding and torture (here), the Obama White House is continuing its policy of ignoring the credible claims of war crimes to avoid the politically difficult decision to prosecute Bush, Cheney and others for the U.S. torture program. This was evident this week when White House spokesman Robert Gibbs refused to answer a basic question on the torture of a recently captured Taliban leader– offering only to discuss the matter off the record.


Just a couple days after the Cheney interview, it was made public that the Administration had captured Mullah Abduh Ghani Baradar. The question was whether the Administration would use waterboarding though its allies:

CHIP REID: Back on the topic of waterboarding and torture. The president having, as you said, outlawed waterboarding, what is the responsibility of his administration to make sure that this latest alleged captive from the Afghan Taliban is not waterboarded or tortured? Is it — is it the president’s and the administration’s responsibility, not talking about him in particular but is it their responsibility to make sure waterboarding doesn’t happen by Pakistan security forces.

ROBERT GIBBS: I, Chip, I for a number of reasons, as I said, I’m just not going to get into the details surrounding any of these events right now.
REID: It is a question of policy, not a question of this particular case.
GIBBS: And I’ll be happy to talk about it off camera.
Gibbs also refused to confirm whether or not Mullah Abduh Ghani Baradar had even been captured, which the Taliban has denied.

Reid was correct. This should be an easy question of policy. It is the very crux of the controversy over extraordinary renditions and the use of allies to torture suspects. The United States neither tortures nor hands over suspects to others for torture. It should be a policy that is stated openly and clearly. Yet, Gibbs was clearly unwilling or uncomfortable in making such assurances.

Instead, the Administration’s blocking of any prosecution has reinforced the view of many that waterboarding is not unlawful and clearly emboldened people like Cheney. Now, we have leading columnists arguing not only for the torture of detainees but their wives and children. It is an example of the slippery slope of torture — once you accept torture, there are no limitations in the absence of principle.

For the story, click here.

30 thoughts on “Gibbs Refuses to Answer Torture Question in Public

  1. Mr. Gibbs refused to answer because he has no answer. The Obama administration has been attempting to finesse the torture issue from the beginning, changing the policy (at least domestically), but insisting that we must “look forward.” Those of you who do criminal defense might want to try that argument on a prosecutor the next time you’re doing some plea bargaining. The investigation being conducted presently by Mr. Holder is, in my opinion, intended only to hold progressives at bay since the president has no intention of prosecuting any officials in the Bush/Cheney administration for war crimes. Regardless of Mr. Holder’s views, a political decision has been made, probably out of fear of negative popular reaction to prosecutions of the people “who kept us safe.” My view is that the failure to investigate and prosecute, if warranted, is morally corrupt and short-sighted. If the use of torture is seen as merely a “policy” decision, its lawfulness is effectively confirmed and the ability to prevent the government from changing that “policy” in the future becomes virtually impossible. As a nation, it means that we have ratified lawlessness as the prerogative of the executive branch. I don’t know about anyone else, but I hardly take solace in the fact that the current president may be more benign on the issue.

  2. @ Bonnie – I like Gary Johnson… he holds some promise from my perspective. May I suggest not voting for the lesser of – rather vote for a smaller party that might be more in line with your philosophy. Every vote they recieve helps to raise awareness to the issues they fight for. It’s certainly not going to be what changes an election, but if enough vote it does add up and change future election issues.

  3. James Madison wrote:

    “If the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty…”

    It would indeed be ironic if impeachment proceedings were brought against President Obama for the crimes committed by the Bush administration, simply because President Obama chose to “shelter” those lawbreakers from prosecution.

  4. I have never heard of Gary Johnson. Voting third party does nothing to change face of the elections. I’ve tried it. Now, I mostly use my vote to cancel my crazy sister’s vote for anything Republican.

  5. Although I agree that Obama should be going after the torturers, I think this non-answer is not a big deal. I think he is merely trying to stay quiet about the entire capture incident. If he starts talking he might go too far, even if he has been been briefed on the capture, which might be an assumption on our part.

  6. @ Bonnie: If you vote for Obama (even as the lesser of two evils) aren’t you condoning what he is doing?

    I think one of the major reasons that we find ourselves in this predicament is due the the false left/right paradigm created by the powers that be. Is there real all that much difference between red and blue anymore? Then why are some of us still acting like there is.

    Think of it: Americans, fed up beyond belief, show up at the polls and turn their backs on the Democrats, Republicans, and the co-opted Tea Party movement and finally give Ralph Nader the shot he has been pining for all these years. In all honesty, the country would be in better hands than it has been for the last two…no, make that eight administrations.

  7. Can’t really see how torture would work anyway.
    Surely the victims would just say some BS that they felt the torturer wanted to hear just to make the pain stop.
    They may even say things that may lead army/police units acting on information gained by torture into traps.
    Surely many of these Talibanies recieve some sort of instruction on how to behave under torture.
    Perhaps the Michel Thomas approach would be better.

  8. I’ve about given up on the Obama administration and I was an Obama supporter the first month he announced, February 2007. Now, I can see myself voting for Sarah Palin because if she was elected, it would absolutely force the rest of the world to take the reins of leadership away from the US. No more pretense that the US is a credible world leader if Palin is President.

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