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Never Again? That’ll be Quite a Speech, Mr. President


Of all the folks who might be upset about the release of the OLC memos justifying torture last week, one is getting lost in the shuffle: Obama’s speechwriter.

You see, on Thursday President Obama will be giving the keynote speech at the 2009 National Holocaust Remembrance Commemoration at the US Capitol. The event is sponsored by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the theme of the event is “Never Again: What You Do Matters.”

Here’s where the speechwriter’s problem comes in. As the museum’s press release says,

“The notion that the Holocaust was the result of the actions of one man or a handful of leaders is false,” says Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “The ability to carry out the genocide depended upon the participation of tens of thousands and the acquiescence of millions. This year, as we remember the victims of Nazi Germany and its collaborators, let us reflect on our own responsibilities in a world of rising antisemitism and continuing genocide.”

So, one week after the DOJ releases memos that made torture the legal policy of the United States of America, and shortly after Obama announced that those who carried out this policy would not face prosecution, the speechwriter has to craft a speech for a Holocaust remembrance event.

Good luck with that, WH Speechwriter.

The US rejected the "Let bygones be bygones" theory of jurisprudence at Nuremberg, as well as the "we were just following orders" defense. It’s not enough for Obama to say "we repudiate these OLC opinions, and torture is no longer the official policy of the US government." That’s a necessary condition for returning the US to the rule of law and reaffirming our commitments to such international agreements as the Geneva Conventions, but hardly a sufficient condition.

Unless Obama and his DOJ make some dramatic moves before Thursday, that speech is going to be very, very tough to write. I can easily picture the speechwriter in front of the computer, holding an ice pack to the forehead after having banged it against the desk: "What am I supposed to say? ‘Never again’ seems a little hollow after those torture memos came out, doesn’t it? Can’t mention Nuremberg, or people will be asking about Gitmo. Can’t mention the glories of international law, the Geneva conventions . . . WTF can I say?"

And this does not qualify as "dramatic moves," especially this part:

As a general proposition, Obama said, "I think that we should be looking forward and not backwards. I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations."

The practice of torture under the cloak of the law by an unchecked executive branch is the ultimate in politicization; investigating this and prosecuting those responsible is not. The practice of torture hampers our national security operations; the investigation and prosecution of those responsible is not. The practice of torture — even in the past — is the problem, and refusing to look back at what was done is inexcusable.

Like I said, good luck with that speech, Mr./Ms. Speechwriter. But here’s a hint: I wouldn’t mention the number "183" either. And when you really get down in the dumps, just tell yourself that it could be worse: the OLC opinions only sanctioned torture, not genocide.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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