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The day that Barack Obama lied to me

Spain is home to the running of the bulls, of course, but in 2009 it was also home to the running of the bull----, courtesy of our president, Barack Obama. And this time, it's personal. Presidents lie all the time, unfortunately, but in this case candidate Barack Obama lied to my face in April 2008, when he came to 400 North Broad Street here in Philadelphia and I had a chance to ask him directly how he would handle allegations of torture and related crimes by the Bush administration.

Here's part of how he responded:

What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that's already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can't prejudge that because we don't have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You're also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve.

On Jan. 20, 2009, Obama became the 44th president of the United States, and in the 22 months since then there's no reason to believe there's what he promised -- any serious Justice Department review of torture or any other likely war crimes that were ordered up and carried out during Bush's presidency. So what he said up on the 12th floor of the building where I now sit was, in essence, a lie. But tonight, thanks to some on-the-ball reporting from David Corn at Mother Jones, we learn that it's even worse than that, that the Obama administration actively protected Bush's minions from any accountability, anywhere in the world:

In its first months in office, the Obama administration sought to protect Bush administration officials facing criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies the that governed interrogations of detained terrorist suspects. An April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid to the State Department—one of the 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks—details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.

For example:

On April 15, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who'd recently been chairman of the Republican Party, and the US embassy's charge d'affaires met with the acting Spanish foreign minister, Angel Lossada. The Americans, according to this cable, "underscored that the prosecutions would not be understood or accepted in the US and would have an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship" between Spain and the United States. Here was a former head of the GOP and a representative of a new Democratic administration (headed by a president who had decried the Bush-Cheney administration's use of torture) jointly applying pressure on Spain to kill the investigation of the former Bush officials.

Here's the thing: In a sense, I agree with the Obama's administration's actions here, in that it shouldn't be Spain's responsibility to determine whether American high-ranked officials committed crimes. It is America's responsibility to determine whether high-ranking American officials committed crimes, and in that regard we have failed miserably as a nation. That failure took place largely under the presidency of Barack Obama. It is way officials as far away as Spain have to think about getting involved.

The funny thing is that this sense of expediency, the lack of accountability, and one set of rules for the powerful and another set for everyone else, is now coming to permeate American society. It's really not that important in the scheme of things, but tonight we see such a case in the world of sports -- the NCAA largely looking the other way from a major infraction because it would screw up the big bucks for the BCS title game. Remember the hit-and-run driver in Colorado whose job with a hedge fund made him too important to be charged with a felony? And there's not the time or the space (and note: this is cyberspace, which is infinite) to recount all the low-life scum on Wall Street who got away with it.

Where on earth did people in America get this idea, that we only have a system of justice when it happens to be convenient? Maybe they got it from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and from a nation that looks at a president who invaded another country on bogus, trumped up pretenses and ordered illegal acts of torture - and sends him on a cross-country book tour with a multi-million-dollar reward? Actions have consequences, but so does inaction, and for all the right-wing clucking, the reality is that the failure of this country to hold a president and his aides accountable for things that were not "policy differences" but serious violations of the law is making America weaker, not stronger, as our moral fiber and our standing in the world slowly erodes.

You know, there's been all this talk recently -- including on this blog -- about "American exceptionalism." Does anyone remember what Obama said when he was asked about this back in 2009:

I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

Pretty words -- but meaningless if working in the White House means you're above "our body of law." The breakdown of justice in this county is far from exceptional. In fact, it's contemptible. And the lie that Barack Obama told in this building in Philadelphia is a big part of that.