President Obama is treading dangerously on his support from the Left given the reversal of his own position on military commissions and his failure to vigorously support prosecution of the Bush administration’s alleged war crimes involving torture. The criminal nature of Bush’s conduct consists of the torture itself, its concealment, and the transmogrifying of American law through the Office of Legal Counsel (particularly the conspiratorial complicity of Jay ByBee and John Yoo.) President Obama’s lack of enthusiasm in pursuing prosecutions of the previous administration key culprits is understandable, but it is neither wise nor acceptable. There is a moral and legal duty to pursue criminal acts, especially those concerning brutal and inhumane treatment of detainees. This issue will not go away. Unless the President gets out in front of the movement demanding prosecution or at least hearings, he is likely to be trampled by it. What’s happened to Obama’s pragmatism? He might want to look forward, but criminal acts of his predecessors and his own campaign promises have foreclosed the possibility of doing so. As Joan Walsh’s puts this point: “I’m also starting to worry Obama is internalizing Cheney’s values, with a string of bad decisions on torture, culminating in today’s move to reverse his prior commitment to transparency and block the release of more torture photos.” President Obama continues to deserve support by the American people, but unless he makes good on his promises his support will dry up. No, those of us who have supported him will not turn to the grotesque, unprincipled, and unimaginative Republican Party. But our enthusiasm for Obama will be diminished and his noble aspiration to become a transformational president will also vanish.
Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category
A few weeks ago, I wrote about prosecutorial discretion and the torture memos. No new information has been revealed about the memos. However, former Vice President Dick Cheney has continued to talk about enhanced interrogation techniques (read torture) and the good information they supposedly produced. Cheney continues to claim that waterboarding and similar troubling interrogation techniques do not amount to torture. However, his defense of the techniques seems to suggest that even if they did amount to torture, they should have been authorized and used against the terrorists who were indeed subjected to the techniques. His defense suggests a balancing process that comes out in favor of torture because there would be almost no argument against the use of such techniques if they were in fact legal, not torturous and did in fact produce information that stopped attacks on the United States and other countries, as Cheney has claimed.
This all ties into prosecutorial discretion in a controversial way. This is because there may be room to consider Cheney’s comments in the process of deciding whether he or others ought to be prosecuted, if they have committed a crime related to authorizing enhanced interrogation techniques. Some might complain that Cheney’s First Amendment rights would be put in jeopardy or that the government might attempt to prosecute Cheney merely to quiet him. However, others would argue that Cheney’s continuing assertions that torture is not torture and his advocacy that torture continue to be used, even in the absence of clear evidence that it has produced actionable intelligence that directly saves lives, suggests that Cheney has no remorse or regrets regarding the use of torture. Whether Cheney demonstrates acceptance that his actions were wrongful or illegal, assuming they were, arguably is quite relevant to whether the Department of Justice should prosecute him if it concludes that he has committed a crime. At least, it should be as relevant as any information about a putative criminal that suggests that he has refused to realize the criminality of his behavior. Indeed, a person who refuses to acknowledge the criminality of his behavior is almost certainly in need of the punishment and correction that the Bureau of Prisons is supposed to provide.
Just before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, I had an argument with a friend of mine who supported the invasion. I told him that I did not think there was any reason for the United States to invade Iraq. He asked me whether I thought that the President was lying about weapons of mass destruction, and was astounded by my answer. My friend was astonished that I believed that the President of the United States, leader of the free world, would lie to the American People about such an important issue. Oh, what an innocent time that seems now! Now, we know that not only was President Bush lying then, but that members of his administration continued to lie about the reasons we were in Iraq after it became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Most notably, Vice President Cheney spoke often about the supposed link between Sadam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks, even though no such link was ever established.
The release of the torture memos last week gives us an upsetting glimpse into the inner workings of the Bush administration during that time, and may provide evidence that the administration was involved in an even bigger lie. Why would the US intelligence officials use torture on terrorist suspects when not only were those methods prohibited by US and international law, but those methods had never been proven to work better than other interrogation techniques? We have now learned that the torture methods used by US intelligence officials were modelled on methods used by the North Koreans to illicit false confessions from captured members of the US military. Why would our government want to illict false information? Could it be that our government used torture to try to manufacture a link between Iraq and 9/11, betwee Al Qaeda and Sadam Hussein? If so, then our government was using inhumane interrogation methods such as waterboarding, that we have prosecuted as war crimes in the past, not to protect us, but to keep us in the dark. It’s a shocking proposition, to be sure, but given what we have learned, we need proof that it’s not true. That’s why we need an investigation into the Bush administration’s torture policies – to make sure our leaders didn’t use torture to support their lies, and to keep from telling the Big Lie to us again in the future.
A relatively simple moral imperative requires the righteous to criticize their own conduct and when found wanting to admit and atone for the wrongdoing. Indeed, the capacity for moral correction and growth may just be the defining feature of being a person. It’s certainly a necessary condition for the possibility of ethics. This virtue is rarely, if ever, exemplified by nations. The conventional view is that nations must be strong and confession and atonement threaten national strength. While perhaps true of weak nations, powerful nations strengthen their moral authority by admitting and correcting wrongdoing. Doing so reveals the powerful nation’s willingness to listen and hear the complaints of other nations and more important, the criticism of their own citizens. So why is there such an extreme reaction to President Obama’s releasing the torture memo? Is the concern over revealing state secrets? Not likely. The content of the torture memos can be easily discovered by anyone wanting to know their content. (No?) Is it that revealing that the United States would torture–in violation of domestic law and international treaties–weakens our public stature? Well, not exactly; it’s not the revelation that weakens our public stature. Rather, it’s that we would torture in the first place. And that’s the reason why releasing the torture memos and prosecuting those officials who formulated and justified the policy conforms to the moral imperative that’s true of both men and nations. Coming to grips with our own wrongdoing and taking responsibility for altering the mind set and the policies that engendered the wrongdoing is required to regain America’s tarnished spirit. Those who cannot appreciate this elementary moral scheme lay no claim to understanding ethics.
Click here for Paul Krugman’s take on this fundamentally important issue.
According to recent reports: “The CIA waterboarded two al-Qaida terror suspects a total of 266 times, according to a report that suggests the use of the torture technique was much more extensive than previously thought. . . . The documents showed waterboarding was used 183 times on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who admitted planning the 9/11 attacks, the New York Times reported today. . . . The US Justice Department memos released last Thursday showed that waterboarding, which the US now admits is torture, was used 83 times on the alleged al-Qaida senior commander Abu Zubaydah, the paper said. A former CIA officer claimed in 2007 that Zubaydah was subjected to the simulated drowning technique for only 35 seconds. . . . The numbers were removed from most of the memos over the weekend. But bloggers, including Marcy Wheeler from empytwheel, discovered that the figure had not been blanked out from one of the memos. . . . Barack Obama has banned waterboarding and overturned a Bush administration policy that it did not amount to torture. . . . The president did not intend to prosecute Bush administration officials who devised the policies that led to such interrogations, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said yesterday. . . . Asked on Sunday about the fate of those officials, Emanuel told ABC’s This Week programme that Obama believed they ‘should not be prosecuted either and that’s not the place that we go’.” To read more click here.
Fortunately, the President has had second thoughts about categorically ruling out investigations of crimes committed during the Bush-Cheney administration. Perhaps, someone close to the President alerted him to the fact that the United States has a legal duty to prosecute war crimes committed by its “leaders.” A hearty thanks to the stalwart soul brave enough to convince the President that his rhetoric about “looking forward” is quite irrelevant when one has a legal duty to take action of a certain sort, that is, when taking such action isn’t discretionary. And thanks to the President for exhibiting the good sense and strength of character to reconsider is initial erroneous position.
Occasionally, a literary piece emerges that provides poignant insight into some troubling issue in politics or culture. Mark Danner has written such a piece that every American should read before embracing any position of whether the United States under Bush-Cheney was guilty of flagrant war crimes, including torture. Here’s the introductory paragraph:
We think time and elections will cleanse our fallen world but they will not. Since November, George W. Bush and his administration have seemed to be rushing away from us at accelerating speed, a dark comet hurtling toward the ends of the universe. The phrase “War on Terror”—the signal slogan of that administration, so cherished by the man who took pride in proclaiming that he was “a wartime president”—has acquired in its pronouncement a permanent pair of quotation marks, suggesting something questionable, something mildly embarrassing: something past. And yet the decisions that that president made, especially the monumental decisions taken after the attacks of September 11, 2001—decisions about rendition, surveillance, interrogation—lie strewn about us still, unclaimed and unburied, like corpses freshly dead.
Thus compelling narrative should be read, reread, and then invoked whenever the subject of Bush-Cheney torture arises. To read further click here.
Michael Ignatieff, an early Canadian supporter of Mr. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, is now setting his sight on the leadership of the Liberal Party. Consider the report in the Globe and Mail: “Toronto MP Michael Ignatieff launched a bulldozer charge at the federal Liberal leadership on Sunday, campaigning for the party’s parliamentary caucus to elect him immediately as an interim replacement for Stéphane Dion. . . . Mr. Ignatieff’s organizers said Sunday night they had the support of at least 55 of the party’s 77 MPs, including Mr. Dion’s most vocal supporter, suburban Toronto MP Bryon Wilfert, and MP Maurizio Bevilacqua, who chaired the 2006 leadership campaign of Mr. Ignatieff’s major opponent, Bob Rae. . . . In addition, leadership contender Dominic LeBlanc flew to Toronto Sunday night to meet with Mr. Ignatieff. He is widely expected to drop his leadership bid and pledge support to Mr. Ignatieff on Monday, along with a group of Atlantic MPs and senators. . . . The plan calls for Mr. Dion to be ousted Wednesday followed by a vote that would likely install Mr. Ignatieff at the helm as interim leader. At a second-stage process — almost certainly the leadership convention currently scheduled for May — the party either would confirm him as leader or turn to his only other declared opponent, Mr. Rae. “To read further click here.
There’s something unsettling about a Mr. Ignatieff’s approach to politics. He seems deeply immersed in his own sense of superiority and one cannot shake the feeling that his backing of the invasion of Iraq was politically motivated. Certainly, many prominent American senators backed the invasion for the very same reasons. But Canadian politics sometimes seems more forthright than American politics. And if that perception is even close to the truth, Canadian politicians who ape Americans should be condemned to exile from leadership of the Liberal Party.
Specifically, Ignatieff has embraced “the lesser evil” theory of fighting terrorists which embraces such tactics as indefinite of suspects, targeted assassinations, and preemptive (preventive ?) wars. Somehow Mr. Ignatieff believes that adopting these tactics can be compatible with democratic values, especially freedom and civil liberties, but it is extremely difficult to figure out how this is possible. And what makes this infinitely more distateful is that Ignatieff is supposed to be a champion of human rights.
Over the past few years various governmental officials, including President Bush, have categorically denied that his administration engages in torture. The truth is now out. WE DO TORTURE. Consider the following: “The Bush administration issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency’s use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaeda suspects — documents prompted by worries among intelligence officials about a possible backlash if details of the program became public. . . . The classified memos, which have not been previously disclosed, were requested by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet more than a year after the start of the secret interrogations, according to four administration and intelligence officials familiar with the documents. Although Justice Department lawyers, beginning in 2002, had signed off on the agency’s interrogation methods, senior CIA officials were troubled that White House policymakers had never endorsed the program in writing. . . . The memos were the first — and, for years, the only — tangible expressions of the administration’s consent for the CIA’s use of harsh measures to extract information from captured al-Qaeda leaders, the sources said. As early as the spring of 2002, several White House officials, including then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney, were given individual briefings by Tenet and his deputies, the officials said. Rice, in a statement to congressional investigators last month, confirmed the briefings and acknowledged that the CIA director had pressed the White House for ‘policy approval.’” Click here for further information.
A nation is measured by the moral content of its ideals and how well it puts these ideals into practice. The time to take this measure is when there’s a price to pay for adhering to these ideals, not when commitment to one’s ideals t’s merely rhetoric. According to this standard, the Bush-Cheney administration has besmirched our ideals and has disgraced the nation.
More on the terrible treatment of Maher Arar by the Bush White House. ” Canadian torture victim Maher Arar has been given an unexpected – and very rare – opportunity to take another crack at winning redress from the Bush administration in a New York court. . . . The Second Circuit Court of Appeals announced yesterday it would convene at least 13 judges in December for another hearing for Arar, the Ottawa engineer, who was tortured and jailed in a Syrian prison after being whisked out of JFK Airport in September 2002, under a U.S. practice known as ‘extraordinary rendition.’ . . . A three-judge panel dismissed Arar’s lawsuit in June, but the dissenting judge said the ruling gave the U.S. government licence ‘to violate constitutional rights with virtual impunity.” . . . Yesterday’s decision keeps alive the possibility that Arar could still become the first rendition victim to force the Bush administration to admit its role and compensate a victim in a case it maintains was an immigration matter. . . . The court made its decision before it even received a petition from Arar’s lawyers to examine the suit again, a decision legal observers said was extremely rare. . . . Even when petitioned, the Second Circuit convenes the entire bench less than once a year, based on recent records. ‘this is good news,’ said Maria LaHood, of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights lawyer who represents Arar.” For more click here. The Second Circuit has provided hope that Mr. Bush can be held accountable for something.
Dick Cheney’s repeated lies to the American people surely qualify him for the gold medal in mendacity. But the Vice-President’s successful scheming to keep the President out of the loop concerning his own administration’s decisions authorizing torture indicates the complete absence of even an elementary moral sense. Consider the following report: “Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned. . . . The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved. . . . A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the meetings described them Thursday to the AP to confirm details first reported by ABC News on Wednesday. The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue. . . . Between 2002 and 2003, the Justice Department issued several memos from its Office of Legal Counsel that justified using the interrogation tactics, including ones that critics call torture.” For the entire story click here and for more click here.