Obama and the Truth Agenda

Exclusive: The euphemism, “enhanced interrogations,” is finally fading amid truth-telling that President George W. Bush authorized — and the CIA engaged in — torture of “war on terror” detainees. The lack of a backlash to the stomach-turning new details also suggests that Americans are ready for a truth agenda, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Before last month’s elections, the Democrats thought it would be smart to avoid policy debates. So, they delayed action on immigration, kept President Barack Obama away from many races, and withheld the Senate’s report on CIA torture while following a “legacy” strategy of nominating Senate candidates with famous family names. The Democrats got clobbered and all their “legacy” candidates went down to defeat.

It turns out that this sort of strategy is not just anti-democratic by hiding the issues so the people don’t get a chance to weigh in before an election but it’s bad politics, too. Since then, the Democrats have moved forward with a different approach, with President Obama enunciating a somewhat more humane immigration policy and finally allowing release of the executive summary of the torture report.

President Barack Obama talks with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice in the Oval Office on March 19, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice in the Oval Office on March 19, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

And, surprise, surprise, the sky hasn’t fallen. Yes, some Republicans have grumbled about Obama abusing his executive powers over immigration, and some torture-implicated CIA officials and a few far rightists continued quibbling that the torture wasn’t really torture. But the backlash has been surprisingly mild. Generally speaking, the American people especially seem okay with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report.

Even the Washington Post’s neocon editorial page praised the long-delayed disclosures. After citing the horrifying examples of near drownings, painful stress positions, sleep deprivations and “rectal feeding,” the Post concluded: “This is not how Americans should behave. Ever.”

So, what’s the lesson here? It may be that the American people or at least many of them are ready for some truth-telling, whether it’s about how black and brown people are treated in this country or about abuses committed by the government that should be confronted and corrected.

Maybe, these Americans are sick and tired of being treated like children or idiots and perhaps the new “smart” political play, as well as the right pro-democracy move, is to start respecting the people by giving them facts, not just pablum and propaganda.

So, President Obama might consider following up his new immigration policy and the recent protests against the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner with a new commission on race in America (like the 1960s Kerner Commission which warned that “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white separate and unequal”).

And he might continue reinvigorating American democracy by sharing more facts with the American people. From the same era that brought us CIA “black sites,” it would be a no-brainer for Obama to release the hidden pages of the 9/11 report on Saudi funding of the hijackers.

As Saudi Arabia today pushes the United States to engage in a “regime change” in Syria a move that could lead to a victory by al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front affiliate or the Islamic State the American people might want to know exactly which side the Saudi “allies” are on.

Obama also shouldn’t stop at just releasing unnecessary secrets from George W. Bush’s administration. He should update the American people on controversies in which his own administration rushed to judgments regarding issues related to war or peace.

The Sarin Mystery

On Syria, for instance, the Saudis (along with Turkey and Israel) almost fulfilled their dream of getting the U.S. military to destroy President Bashar al-Assad’s defenses after Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials and media jumped to the conclusion that Assad was at fault for a sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.

Though the furor over that incident brought the United States to the brink of another Mideast war, many of the supposed “facts” cited by Kerry and the others have crumbled under closer scrutiny, such as the belief that a barrage of rockets carried the sarin from a Syrian military base when a subsequent United Nations investigation discovered only one sarin-laden rocket. Rocket experts also concluded that its very limited range traced more likely to rebel-held territory.

In other words, the sarin attack may well have been a rebel provocation meant to draw the U.S. military into the Syrian civil war on the side of the rebels whose most effective fighters are connected to either al-Qaeda or the even more extreme Islamic State. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Was Turkey Behind Syria-Sarin Attack?”]

More than a year later, U.S. intelligence analysts have a much more comprehensive take on what actually happened, and President Obama could declassify that information even if it embarrasses Secretary Kerry and other high-ranking members of the administration. If the Assad regime was falsely accused, there is also a fairness imperative to correct the record regardless of what you think about Assad.

Similarly, U.S. intelligence analysts have amassed substantial data on another crucial event, one that has ratcheted up war tensions in Eastern Europe, the July 17 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine. Kerry and others rushed to blame the ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who supposedly gave the rebels the sophisticated surface-to-air missiles capable of bringing down a plane at 33,000 feet.

The stampede of anti-Russian outrage was so strong that the European Union agreed to U.S. demands for economic sanctions against Moscow, touching off a trade war that has made life harder for people in both Russia and Europe. The shoot-down also gave impetus to the Kiev regime’s “anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine, dispatching neo-Nazi and other paramilitary militias who have spearheaded the killing of thousands of ethnic Russians.

But I’m told that some U.S. intelligence analysts now view the MH-17 incident much differently from the first few days, with the possibility that the shoot-down may have been committed by a rogue element of the Ukrainian military, possibly trying to bring down a Russian plane and mistakenly destroying the Malaysian airliner which had similar markings.

Whatever the current thinking about who was to blame, clearly U.S. intelligence has much more data today than was available in July when Kerry went on all five Sunday shows pointing the finger at Russia and was joined in his hasty conclusion by virtually the entire U.S. mainstream media.

Obama owes it to the American people and to the families of the 298 dead to release all available U.S. evidence regarding the guilty parties even if that again embarrasses his Secretary of State.

The Tonkin Precedent

Kerry himself should want the full story told regarding both the Syrian sarin case and the Malaysia plane shoot-down, since as a young man he was drawn into the Vietnam War based on false reporting about the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. A suspected clash between North Vietnamese forces and a U.S. destroyer became the basis for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which provided the legal authorization for the Vietnam War.

In the Gulf of Tonkin case, senior officials of Lyndon Johnson’s administration soon realized that the attack probably never happened. But that reality was kept hidden from the American people for years as the slaughter went on, with 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese dying. If the factual correction had been made in a timely manner, many of those dead, including servicemen who served with Lt. John Kerry, might have been saved.

However, Kerry, now 70, has become like the older men who sent him and his comrades to fight in Vietnam, more concerned about reputation and pride inside Official Washington than about the blood and suffering of the people affected by misdirected U.S. policies. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What’s the Matter with John Kerry?”]

Today, Kerry’s State Department appears to see both the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine as battlefields where U.S. “hard power” is limited so a decision has been made to use propaganda or “information warfare” as a “soft power” alternative.

Thus, exploiting these terrible tragedies hundreds dying from sarin exposure and 298 dying from a plane attack is viewed as a way to put the U.S. “adversaries” Assad and Putin, respectively on the defensive. In this propaganda world, truth is lost to expediency.

Further following the Tonkin Gulf analogy, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a highly belligerent anti-Russian resolution on Dec. 4, by a 411-10 margin. It cited as one justification for sending U.S. military equipment and trainers to Ukraine the supposed “fact” that “Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a civilian airliner, was destroyed by a Russian-made missile provided by the Russian Federation to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, resulting in the loss of 298 innocent lives.”

But the case of MH-17 is far from resolved, although clearly President Obama has access to information about the incident that could either help confirm or refute the congressional assertion. Yet, he continues to hide that knowledge from the American people as the United States and Russia inch toward a possible nuclear confrontation over Ukraine.

So, it may be time for Obama to embrace a “truth agenda.” After all, facts have a special place in a democracy, which is dependent on an informed electorate to function, and information should be withheld from the public only in extraordinary circumstances.

However, after the early days of his administration, when Obama did release some important documents relating to the legal opinions that justified Bush’s torture policies, the President lost his way regarding respect for the people’s right to know.

Obama became immersed in the gamesmanship of Official Washington where control of information is regarded as a measure of one’s power. But that allowed the Tea Party and others on the Right to present themselves as “populists” who were standing up against the elites, even though many Republicans were more wedded to secrecy than Obama was.

Now, however, Obama is seeing amid the positive reaction to the release of the torture report that many Americans are hungry for facts. They, too, understand that information is power and sense that the political leader who trusts them with that power is the one most on their side.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

24 comments for “Obama and the Truth Agenda

  1. W. I. Tobedone
    December 12, 2014 at 07:32

    So, it may be time for Obama to embrace a “truth agenda.” – Don’t hold your breath on that one, not gonna happen in this lifetime inside the beltway.

    After all, facts have a special place in a FAUX democracy, which is dependent on an UNinformed electorate to function, and information should be withheld from the public PERIOD.

  2. Mark
    December 11, 2014 at 21:30

    That’s classic hypocrisy. Neocons telling anyone they should not behave a certain way ever?

    After witnessing their deceitfulness while directly and indirectly causing the deaths of 700000 or more humans in the past 15 years. They have no credibility. Everything about them concerns only projected image, with no humane substance within – they have no business condemning anyone until they condemn themselves first.

  3. Gregory Kruse
    December 11, 2014 at 14:39

    Well, I know I’m hungry for facts and the truth, because I ordered a copy of the summary of the torture report from Melville House, even though I know the whole truth is hidden away in the report itself, or more likely in that which didn’t even make it onto the pages. The truth fades away when you follow it too far into the woods, and then you find yourself howling out there. I think there are better explanations for Obama’s reticence in using the executive order on immigration and his quiescence about the publication of the summary after the mid-term elections, than that he is about to spill his guts about everything including Roswell just to satisfy the “American People”. He didn’t do it before because he wants a Republican majority in Congress (he loves Reagan), and he is doing it now to let off some steam before the presidential elections because he wants to take the pressure off of Hillary, not because she is a Democrat, but because she is the right kind of Democrat, which is a Wall Street Democrat.

    • Joe Tedesky
      December 12, 2014 at 01:58

      Gregory, I can tell you are an experienced US voter. I agree with your line of thought. BTW, you are not all a lone out there howling, there are many of us out here with you. Our problem is we are all out gunned by our corporate masters. The only thing on our side, is the truth. Our best hope is the establishments house of lies will someday collapse…how old are you? Well, maybe my grandchildrens generation will straighten this mess out…let’s hope, at least that will happen. Good comments Gregory. Take it easy, enjoy your review of torture report.
      Joe Tedesky

  4. Bill Bodden
    December 11, 2014 at 13:19

    Generally speaking, the American people especially seem okay with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report.

    Unfortunately and generally speaking, the American people seem to be okay with the torture.

    • Joe Tedesky
      December 11, 2014 at 23:27

      Bill, you are so right. Today my wife after driving home from her hair dresser, was fuming. Apparently, a local talk radio host was promoting our country use torture on our prisoners. What really upset my wife were the rado shows callers. The callers were 4 to 1 in favor of using torture to protect our shores. I told her how George Washington didn’t like torture. Then I suggested she listen to Christmas music, and not talk radio.

      Bill, I like reading your comments. Keep posting.
      Joe Tedesky

    • Peter Loeb
      December 15, 2014 at 07:43

      In agreeing with many of the above comments (Sanford, Z. Smith and others)
      I see no reason for optimism on torture or
      on other supposedly “liberal/progressive”
      issues. There have been studies and doc-
      umentation in bygone years to no avail.
      (Prof) Alfred W. McCoy in A QUESTION OF
      TORTURE… paperback 2007 observed on p. 14
      “…even when exposed to public scrutiny, torturers arouse such fear and fascination,
      attraction and revulsion, that they are rarely prosecuted fior their crimes…”

      It must be clear that Obama as well as
      most Democrats are not much different from many in the other party. Most
      Democrats rely heavily on aid from the
      Israeli lobby (AIPAC) and over 35 years
      Presidents of both parties have sided with
      the inhumanity of the State of Israel
      (See Naseer H. Aruri, DISHONEST BROKER…) notably Bill Clinton. Party
      politics and domestic political realities
      are germane but hardly deciding factors.

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  5. Zachary Smith
    December 11, 2014 at 10:31

    I’m afraid I agree with Mr. Sanford about the ‘wishful thinking’. IMO some high-priced consultants worked on the release of the ‘report’, and all the uproar was pre-planned. Make it a 3-day wonder, then on to Breaking News as this becomes stale. And the torture remains established US policy.

    From Chris Floyd:

    Torture is good. That is Barack Obama’s takeaway from the Senate report. It is astounding — or would be astounding, if we were not living in an age given over to state terror and elite rapine.


    I”m afraid Mr. Floyd’s cynicism has rubbed off on me.

  6. F. G. Sanford
    December 11, 2014 at 09:36

    There is nothing on the horizon to suggest that such an epiphany is imminent. If the current administration had the courage to change course, John Kiriakou would be out of jail by now. Victoria Nuland would be out of a job. John McCain would have been censured in the Senate for hobnobbing with ISIS terrorists and Ukrainian Nazis. Jamie Dimon and Larry Summers would have been prosecuted. Joe Tedesky is right – the most traumatic national event I have lived through was the JFK assassination, and NOTHING has been ‘right’ about America since. Americans live their lives like contestants on “The Price is Right” hosted by Bob Barker – now there’s a name that suits a corporate shill. Kinda like Jay “Carney” or Josh “Earnest”. OK America, you can choose what’s behind door number two, curtain number three, or what’s inside Jose Rodriguez’s “Big Boy Pants”. America, predictably, chose the pants. This may come as a surprise to ‘liberal intellectuals’, but the American response to the torture report is not just ambivalent. It’s more like, “The party’s over”. Other sites get comments like, “We should torture those terrorists as much as we want, then dispose of them in an ecologically friendly manner”. Polls indicate that the average American thinks there were “about ten thousand Iraqi casualties”. Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University puts the figure near a million, and that doesn’t include the 500,000 children Madeleine Albright admits to starving with an economic blockade. Yes, we need to go back a little further to get to the root of all the lies. But if anyone should be deluded into believing America is ready for that, just watch that “left gatekeeper” Amy Goodman interview John Pilger on the RFK murder – she kept insisting his wasn’t the “standard view”. Lately, were getting a rehash of the same populist strategy to placate the ‘progressive’ community – the Elizabeth Warren campaign. Having made her obligatory pilgrimage to Israel, the stage is set to fool America again.

    Let’s face it – the most courageous act any supposed ‘liberal’ has attempted in the last twenty years was when Sandy Berger stuffed National Archives records down his pants to protect his cronies. Once again, America’s fascination with what’s in the pants was more important than the issues.

    The “truth”, or getting to it, involves revealing obstruction of justice, suborning perjury, treason, murder, misprision of felony, theft, blackmail, conspiracy, corruption, bribery and even sexual assaults. After all, what would any of us be charged with if we stuck something up some unwilling person’s ass?

    Sorry, Mr. Parry, this is all just wishful thinking.

  7. Brendan
    December 11, 2014 at 07:49

    If there hasn’t been a huge reaction in the US to the CIA torture report, as Robert Parry says, it’s probably because the main points were already leaked months ago. It has already been reported that the CIA used torture and then lied about both its severity and its effectiveness. The publication of the report just provides more details.

    There’s no chance that Obama will start to follow a Truth Agenda. The embarrassment would be too great if he were to make public evidence that does not back up everything that was said about certain events. That would be political suicide.

    John Kerry might have to explain some comments he made, for example on the Damascus Sarin gas attack:
    “We know where the rockets were launched from and at what time. We know where they landed and when. We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and went only to opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods.”

    On the MH17 shoot-down, Kerry said:
    “we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing, and it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

    That’s a lot of “we know”‘s that would have to be supported by hard evidence.

    And there have been many other statements made by spokesmen, military leaders, politicians and allies all over the world about these and other subjects.

    Obama himself might have to explain the comments he made last month at the G20 meeting about “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which is a threat to the world, as we saw in the appalling shoot-down of MH17”

    • Joe Tedesky
      December 12, 2014 at 01:46

      Brendan you are on to something. Already there are rumblings on the right (just listen to FOX news), where they are pointing to Obama’s excessive use of drones. You see drones kill innocents as collateral damage, verse torture generally doesn’t kill anyone. Some logic there, I guess. Would it not be ironic if the new Republican congress (both houses…oh, the Supremes as well) were to offer Obama up to a world court to be prosecuted on war crimes, for his use of drones. Can you say, ‘I can’t breathe’?

  8. Peter Loeb
    December 11, 2014 at 06:36

    Thanks as always for your political perspective.

    Please see my comment to the article in Consortium by Melvin Goodman.

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, M, USA

  9. Peter Loeb
    December 11, 2014 at 06:32

    Thanks for your political analysis.

    See my reply to the Goodman article, same Consortium issue.

    —–Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  10. Greg Maybury
    December 11, 2014 at 05:43


    A timely and welcome call to arms to be sure. For the Obama administration to retrieve some credibility however, it will need to do all you have suggested and then some.

    Even more to the point, it’s not just the Obama administration with its already shop-soiled rep I think, irretrievably trashed; America’s own reputation is itself in an irreversible downward spiral, with little sign that a new president whoever that might will be able to turn the Good Ship America around. Certainly not while we have the New American Centurions dictating the state of play in foreign policy and national security affairs. The whole lot should be tarred and feathered and run out of town. Obama for his part seems incapable of saying “no” to this mob of geopolitical hooligans and nation trashing yahoos.

    Moreover, his adversarial attitude towards whistleblowers, leakers, investigative journos, and the alt/indie media generally – coupled with his obsessive secrecy – does not serve him well. And that’s putting it mildly. The U.S. government’s pathological aversion to transparency and accountability is rising in indirect proportion to its increasing ‘need’ to know everything about everybody for no justifiable reason.

    As in so many others, Number 44’s own legacy in this respect is decidedly shop-soiled, and it’s difficult to see him redeeming that. To reiterate, he’d have to do everything you have suggested, but calling off the war against alternative voices would be one I’d place at the top of the agenda.

  11. December 11, 2014 at 05:32

    Neither Obama nor Moron Nation will ever “embrace a ‘truth agenda.'” Barack the Betrayer of the People will never turn against his Ruling Class masters. And Moron Nation lacks the knowledge, will and courage to ever again challenge the status quo — save to make it worse. The prerequisite traits of character have either been neutralized by the opiates of celebrity, religion and prescription drugs or excised by decades of conditioning in happy-faced subjugation.

  12. glen
    December 11, 2014 at 05:22

    Any new Truth Agenda must start at September 11, 2001.

    • Joe Tedesky
      December 12, 2014 at 01:21

      At Least! Yes, Glenn right, at the very least!

  13. Daniel Guyot
    December 11, 2014 at 05:13

    “Generally speaking, the American people especially seem okay with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report.”

    Mr. Parry,
    You sound very optimistic. The release of the US Senate report about CIA methods is no news at all. The whole world was and is aware of those methods. Publishing the report allows your government to show how democratic the American society is, and secondly to try to prove, that the US government was misled by the CIA. To sum it up, revealing a part of the truth helps to lie better. The “quiet American”, as Graham Green would say, will not change at all, the same policy will be conducted abroad, and nobody won’t be sued or held responsible for the horrors described in the US Senate report. That is probably why even Senator McCain approved the release of the report. McCain was on Maidan, he encouraged civil war in Ukraine, but he feels good and he remains an “American hero”. We all want to know the truth, but most of us do not need it, as long as our conscience has not changed. Truth is not only a question of facts, it is a question of morality, and our materialistic society is completely lacking moral sensibility.

  14. Joe Tedesky
    December 11, 2014 at 01:01

    I agree with everything Mr Parry has written her. Although, to make it all better for me I would need a time machine.

    It’s the morning of November 22., 1963. I would wake up frighten from a terrible dream of how there was an assassination of our 35th president. All would be better after a family giggle over breakfast when I tell my parents about my nightmare. I would then go off to my 8th grade classes at school. My high school class of 68 would not need to try and understand that good people like Rev. King need to die at the hands of the crazy, because stuff happens. Martin Luther King would have never had to make a speech warning the American people of a greedy war being fought in Vietnam. Etc., etc., etc.

    My point is; America would not need to invent cover stories. America in my fantasy world would be that ‘shining city on the hill’. Our government wouldn’t be a house of cards built upon one lie after another.

    Then again, I sometimes like to believe there once really was an Eden!

  15. Thomas Howard
    December 11, 2014 at 00:53

    Obama is a teleprompter reader only.

  16. Gail Harrison
    December 11, 2014 at 00:25

    Mr. Perry no one knows better than yourself about the past and present CIA atrocities in South America. These should also be brought to light. Perhaps it’s time for another Church Commission with no holds bar on disclosure of US CIA wrong doings in full details. If the CIA and NSA are not eliminated which they should be, than ultra strict guidelines and over sight should be instituted by non congressional bodies with judicial authority to go public at the slightest sign of over stepping of authority and criminal penalties to be enforced to the maximum.

  17. December 10, 2014 at 23:04

    You write that Obama “allowed” the Senate report to be published. Why, then, did John Kerry go to senator DiFi to plead for a further postponement? If the Obama WH had got its way the report would have been left to a GOP controlled intelligence committee chairman to publish and, as Obama and Kerry would surely have known, that would never have happened.

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