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April 18th, 2009
11:59 PM ET

Dear President Obama #89: This is torture

Reporter's Note: President Obama says it would be good to hear from Americans with ideas to help him out in the White House. In my experience, people who honestly ask for advice are usually so smart they don’t need it; and those who don’t ask, are too dim-witted to take it. That said, I answer the call with my continuing series of letters to Pennsylvania Avenue.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/16/torture.cia.immunity/art.cuffs.gi.jpg caption="Obama administration officials say nobody should be prosecuted for following Bush-era policy."]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Well, while you’ve been off traipsing around the sunny south, I’ve been busy!

You ordered the release of all those so-called torture documents from the Justice Department, and as they say in Venezuela “Vaca santa!” Ok, maybe they don’t say it quite that way, but the computer tells me that is the literal translation of “holy cow” so I’m going with it.

I know you are terribly occupied dealing with questions about Cuba and picking the right forks at all those fancy dinners, but have you actually read these things? The details they offer about what we have been doing to some of the suspected terrorists we have grabbed are…how shall I put it? Well, they make me squirm for a lot of reasons.

There are the descriptions: Slapping people. Chaining them into standing positions so they can’t sleep. Locking them in cramped, dark spaces. Making them think they are drowning. This is tough stuff. I fully understand any American who says, “We don’t do those things,” and de facto, “That’s torture.”

Problem is I’m paid to also understand people who say “Hold on a minute. Yes, this is awful. But it was done in the name of preventing much more horrible things, which would be much harder to read about. Like another 9-11.”

Part of the issue has to do with our choices of words, and torture is a big one. Can it be used to describe the systematic dousing of a chained person with cold water? Certainly. And if you feel that way, what other word could possibly suffice? But the word “torture” also brings up people having their hands crushed in vises; their fingernails removed; all those agonizing images we’ve had seared into our brains by movies and crime reports. And these memos make it clear we were doing nothing like that. Torture is all at once a word that is black and white and gray.

I know how explosive this issue is, and I think it can be quite unfair for people to look back at hard decisions, made in hard times; and from the comfort of their safe living rooms pass judgment on the actions of others.

But democracy also demands responsibility. I know how very difficult your decision to release these documents must have been, and how difficult it must be to know that people on both sides of this issue remain furious at you. Some because they say you did too little to hold people accountable; some because they say you did too much.

As I often say, you and your Capitol friends must sort out all the rights and wrongs in terms of our policies; but I suspect a great many of us in the country, who have read these papers, are trying to make up our own minds too.

Hope the weekend and remaining travels go well. As always, call if you want to chat anything over.

Hey, do you think the Secret Service could give me a code name?

Regards,

Tom

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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