WASHINGTON, DC – If not for President Barack Obama’s bold, unexpected diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba, the last weeks of 2014 would have been relentlessly unkind to America. The deep flaws in our country’s justice system, the continuing racism in our society, and our government’s recent record of torture and abuse have been on display for the entire world to see.
The video of five police officers subduing and then killing a man, despite his pleas that he could not breathe, could have come from many countries around the world. But the killing of Eric Garner in New York City, like that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer and of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland in November, reflect the heightened risk that young African-American men face at the hands of the police in many US cities. Indeed, according to one recent analysis, young African-American males are 21 times more likely than young white males to be fatally shot by the police.
Then came the release by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence of 528 pages of its report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, established following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America. What the committee described as an “executive summary” detailed horrific behavior by government officials acting on instructions from their superiors.
Worse, rather than seeking to make amends for the abuses, at least one group of former US officials sought to justify them. When asked on US television about the estimated 25% of detainees who were innocent, former Vice President Dick Cheney responded: “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States.” For their part, some current CIA officials continue to insist on the value of America’s “enhanced interrogation” program (which Obama halted), despite the Senate report’s conclusion that the techniques it employed yielded no valuable intelligence.