Wednesday, April 17, 2013

America tortured after 9/11

By Michael J.W. Stickings and Frank Moraes 

MJWS:

I highly recommend reading the report, or at least as much of it as you can, particularly the "Statement of the Task Force" and "Findings and Recommendations" -- that will take you just to page 25. Much of the rest is an extraordinarily detailed account of detainee treatment. The statement includes this:

The events examined in this report are unprecedented in U.S. history. In the course of the nation's many previous conflicts, there is little doubt that some U.S. personnel committed brutal acts against captives, as have armies and governments throughout history.

But there is no evidence there had ever before been the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after September 11, directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.

In other words, what happened was historically awful. Which makes it even more unacceptable, and unjust, that the enablers, architects, and practitioners of America's massive post-9/11 torture regime have yet to be held to account for their crimes.

**********

FM:

It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture. That's not what I say; that's according to the nonpartisan, independent review conducted by The Constitution Project and released, as a 577-page report, yesterday.

I understand that a group with a name like "The Constitution Project" sounds like it's filled with a bunch of libertarian and pacifists who are outside the political mainstream. But that isn't really the case. It is a think tank that tries to bring the left and right of the political spectrum together to agree on constitutional matters. And the eleven members of panel were well represented by the two major parties. What's more, as Scott Shane of The New York Times explained, "[i]t is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs."

What is most significant about the report is that it is so unequivocal. When Dianne Feinstein et al, wrote their letter criticizing the film Zero Dark Thirty, they were careful never to use the word "torture." This is because, according the United States government, we never tortured anyone. Of course, this is just a semantic game: you say "torture," I say "enhanced interrogation techniques"; let's call the whole thing off?


The following passage from the Times article includes a key quote from the report:

The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been "the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody."

This is the kind of stuff that members of the panel try to rationalize, saying that everyone "had acted in good faith, in a desperate effort to try to prevent more attacks." I've been hearing this for years, and I've never bought it. It strikes me as being as believable as Bush's repeated claim in 2002-2003 that he really didn't want to go to war. In this case, I think that Cheney and company were looking for any excuse to torture. It wasn't about keeping anyone safe; it was about being the badasses that these guys imagined themselves to be.

But the report does not only go after Bush. Shane wrote:

While the Constitution Project report covers mainly the Bush years, it is critical of some Obama administration policies, especially what it calls excessive secrecy. It says that keeping the details of rendition and torture from the public "cannot continue to be justified on the basis of national security" and urges the administration to stop citing state secrets to block lawsuits by former detainees.

It doesn't too much seem to matter who is in power, although clearly Obama is distinctly better than Bush. But therein lies a major problem. If Obama is the best our country can reasonably expect for a president (which I believe), "slightly better than Bush" does not speak well of who we've become. Hopefully, this report will help a little. 

Update 

Andrew Sullivan has had his problems in the past, but he's never been a torture apologist. And yesterday over at The Dish he had a very reasonable proposal:

What matters -- and the law is crystal clear about this -- is that torture and anything even close to torture be prosecuted aggressively. This is true especially when a government is claiming urgent national security in defense of its own crimes. The laws specifically rule out any defense on those grounds. So either we are a republic governed by the rule of law or we are not. Yes, there is discretion as to whether to prosecute any crime. But war crimes are the gravest on the books and have no statute of limitations. Prosecuting them is integral to adherence to Geneva, which itself is integral to the maintenance of the rule of law and of Western civilization itself. Either we set up a Truth Commission and find a way to pardon the war criminals, while establishing their guilt -- which would at least give a brief nod to the rule of law. Or we have to take this report and the Senate Intelligence Committee's findings as a basis for legal action for war crimes.

There is no way forward without this going back. And there is no way past this but through it.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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