Is Torture Probe Risk For Obama’s healthcare plan?

That’s how some media are describing the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to name a special prosecutor to look into CIA prisoner abuse cases. There are worries the fallout from Holder’s decision could distract attention from President Barack Obama’s continuing efforts to reform the healthcare system.

Eric Holder, President Obama
Eric Holder, President Obama

Why one would have anything to do with the other is for bigger media minds than mine. The Attorney General’s decision seems perfectly rational, and in fact the only thing he could do after new details emerged about “enhanced” interrogation techniques used after September 11th. President Obama is also correct in leaving the decision about what to do in Holder’s hands.

The AG acknowledged his decision would be controversial, but after all, that’s why he’s making the big money, isn’t it? The question now is whether those who have wanted accountability for torture during the Bush years will stand behind Holder as he takes flack for naming career prosecutor John Durham to head up this investigation.

As we’ve seen with healthcare, silence on the part of one side gives the other free rein to control the debate in the court of public opinion. And what will they say? Obama doesn’t care about national security, that he’s undermining morale at the CIA, that these allegations are old news.

And who will lead the charge? Could it be the Darth Vader of Bush era interrogation, Dick Cheney? They’ll trot him out, for sure. In fact, they won’t need to. He’ll start magically appearing on the Sunday talk shows again, and accuse the Obama Administration of offering aid and comfort to America’s enemies.

It’s all so predictable.

What can’t be predicted is whether those who side with justice on the issue of torture will be proactive, or just watch the firestorm from a distance. Let’s be clear. There is no excuse for linking healthcare to investigating torture.

Those who do so ought to be called on it immediately.

Progressives in this country don’t know their own strength. If seeing to it that suspects America detains in the future aren’t subjected to “enhanced” interrogation is important, get behind Holder and Obama. And then, push for the investigation to include not just the grunts who carried out these activities, but those who ordered them to do so, or looked the other way while it was happening.

None of this has the least little bit to do with keeping America safe. It’s about keeping America America.

What do you think? Is probing torture risky for President Obama’s healthcare reform?

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Muammar Qaddafi & Englewood, NJ? Why’s Libyan Leader Coming to My Town?

The international firestorm over Scotland’s decision to free Libya’s Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi shows no sign of abating, nor should anyone have expected it to. Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny  MacAskill will be making a statement to that country’s Parliament. His appearance isn’t expected to be pretty.

The decision to send the only person convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing home to Libya was, one expects, not taken lightly. However, on the international stage, there are charges a trade deal was made to free Megrahi, and there are calls in the US for a boycott of Scottish and British goods and tourism.

No one can predict if such action will be taken, and if so, what its effect will be. Yet for me, and the city in which I live, the entire weight of the Scottish decision and Libya-US relations has taken a decidedly personal turn.

That’s because there’s word that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is considering a stay in Englewood, NJ, the city I call home. Qaddafi is due to speak to the UN next month, Englewood is about 10 miles as the crow flies from midtown Manhattan, and the Libyan mission to the UN owns a home in town.

Muammar Qaddafi
Muammar Qaddafi

As you might imagine, news of Qaddafi’s possible visit has touched off a wave of anger in Englewood’s large Jewish community. Many here consider him a continuing sponsor of terrorism, no matter what the rapprochement between Libya and the US in recent years. Residents cite as proof of Qaddafi’s imminent arrival frantic renovations currently going on at the little used property .

Of course, there’s little that can be done to legally stop Qaddafi from using the property while he’s in the US.

Libyan owned mansion in Englewood, NJ under renovation for Gadhafi's stay
Libyan owned mansion in Englewood, NJ under renovation for Gadhafi's stay

There are issues regarding international diplomacy, and the State Dept. doesn’t as a rule publicize where foreign leaders reside during visits. Qaddafi reportedly wanted to pitch a tent in New York’s Central Park, but that request went nowhere.

Already there are calls from some to “burn the house down”, which is at best stupid and at worst could merit a visit from authorities.

Certainly if Qaddafi does come to my town, I’d expect protests, large and vocal. Englewood is a diverse small city, and as such would tolerate a stay by Qadaffi, but certainly not in silence. And that’s as it should be. As Americans, we have the right of free speech and should show our outrage that a convicted murderer can return home to a hero’s welcome.

To the extent that Muammar Qaddafi condoned and organized that show of support, he should be the subject of protests, in Englewood, NJ and at the UN. If he chooses to stay among us, he’s got to hear us as well.

Cafe in Englewood, NJ
Cafe in Englewood, NJ

Isn’t that the American way?

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What Price Compassion? Scotland shows Libya.

The sequence of events leading to and following the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi turned out to be all too predictable. The families of the 189 Americans killed back in 1988 were outraged.

The US government roundly criticized the decision of the Scottish government to free him on compassionate grounds. And Megrahi was flown home to Libya on a VIP configured jet to a hero’s welcome.

What bears close examination here is the very notion of compassion, as practiced by the Scottish government and opposed by so many others. Megrahi has terminal prostate cancer, and, doctors say, three months to live.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill explained the decision he made in literate, and some might say compelling terms.

Which might lead some to ask, what is the difference between the way Americans view compassion and the way Scots do (taking into account not all Scots agree with the decision)? Kenny MacAskill made his choice knowing it wouldn’t be popular, and he must have figured Megrahi would return to a hero’s welcome in Libya.

Libya.welcome

Hero welcome

So what drove his decision? Was it, as some cynics argue, the new relationship between the UK and Libya, one that promises OIL RICHES for big business on both sides of the Atlantic? You certainly can’t blame people for thinking it’s possible.

And what of the contention that Megrahi should have been confined to die in Scotland, and returned to Libya as a corpse? Would that have blunted the joyous reaction to his release in Tripoli? Probably not. He’d just have been seen as a martyr.

And so, people from all sides in the controversy speak out. President Obama says he opposed the release, as did his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Conservative talk show hosts blather about some sort of economic retribution against Scottish goods in the US.

And the families express their legitimate pain and outrage at what they see as justice denied.

And some in Britain, including some of the families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing, contend that Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi is innocent, a scapegoat whose trial and conviction masks the real culprits in the bombing, now nearly 21 years old. Perhaps this is one of those times when there is no right, no wrong, no winning side to be on.

One can say, however, that the joy in Libya at Megrahi’s release and arrival there was the wrong reaction. It says to the world that Libyans condone planting a bomb on a plane, and taking 270 innocent lives. Such jubilation could have consequences down the road, no matter how much oil Muammar el-Qaddafi is sitting on.

What do you think? Was Scotland wrong to free the Lockerbie bomber?

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