John Brennan and the Administration Stalling on Bush Torture Memos

Stephen Soldz


Back in November we opposed former CIA official John Brennan for CIA Director. Our Open Letter was credited with playing a role in Brennan’s withdrawal (see also Rachel Maddow). Despite what some believed, we never claimed that Brennan played a key role in the Bush administration torture program. Rather, we were concerned that he had, when it mattered, never taken any position critical of that program. We needed someone who did not have such an equivocal history, we argued.

Afterward there was considerable criticism of those of us who opposed Brennan. We didn’t realize that Brennan was really opposed to the policies he could never get himself to publicly criticize, we were told.

Today the New York Times reports that the Obama administration is still debating whether to follow through with their commitment to release all the Bush administration’s torture memos. In the article is the news that Brennan is among those opposing (technically, “urging caution” in Times-speak) the release of the memos. It seems that some of those in the CIA who carried out the torture program might have their feelings hurt if those in whose name they tortured know what they actually did.

Some administration and Congressional officials said John O. Brennan, a C.I.A. veteran who now serves as President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, has urged caution in disclosing interrogation documents.

Sadly, after Brennan withdrew his name for CIA director, he was kept on as a top Obama counterterrorism adviser. This helped signal the intelligence community that Obama understood their concerns about having the past unearthed. Obama has also signalled this message with his refusal to endorse any investigation of Bush-era abuses and his rhetoric about “looking forward.”

One thing is becoming perfectly clear. The Obama administration is defintely not rushing to put the Bush administation’s abuses behind them. Rather, they intend to let information dribble out, perhaps hoping that most people will never put all the pieces together and realize what was done in our name. Unfortunately, it still remains to be seen to what degree the Obama counterterrorism policies will really deviate from those of Bush.

In response to today’s news of administration hesitation, we must all shout with one voice the message that was stated by the ACLU today:

Using national security as a pretext, the Bush administration managed to suppress these memos for more than three years, denying the public crucial information about government policy and shielding government officials from accountability. The Obama administration should end this cover-up and release the memos. The memos supplied the foundation for an interrogation program that permitted the most barbaric forms of abuse, violated domestic and international law, alienated America’s allies, and yielded information that was both unreliable and unusable in court. The public should be permitted to see the documents that purported to justify this lawless program. If the Obama administration is truly committed to restoring transparency to government, it should disclose these documents immediately.

PsySR member Stephen Soldz is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. This essay is cross-posted at his blog Psyche, Science, and Society. Steven can be reached at


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