Thursday, April 23, 2009

On accountability: the chains that bind

By Carol Gee

Committee Report -- A report released Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee will prove to be a very important declassified document coming out of the work of Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), his staff and committee. To quote David Cloud's Politico article:

Newly declassified documents reveal how harsh military interrogation procedures approved for use at Guantanamo Bay prison by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also filtered down to war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

. . . The chairman, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said the decision by Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials to authorize the interrogation practices “set the tone” that led to prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

“Authorizations of aggressive interrogation techniques by senior officials resulted in abuse and conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody,” Levin said in a statement.

Levin said it was still a “question” whether senior Bush administration officials “should be held accountable.” He called for Attorney General Eric Holder to name a retired federal judge or some other “distinguished individuals” to look at “what steps, if any, should be taken” against high level officials.

. . . The report also documents how personnel from the Army’s Survival, Resisance, Evasion and Escape school, a military organization that trains U.S. soldier in resisting interrogation, traveled to Guantanamo and Iraq to train interrogators there in use of harsh methods.

Will the committee act? Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that, if Republicans can't back his idea of a truth commission to investigate the Bush torture program, he will launch a Judiciary Committee investigation. An investigation is already underway in the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to the story in Congressional Quarterly-Politics (4/22/09).

News Analysis: At Core of Detainee Fight: Did Methods Stop Attacks? -- taken from the New York Times, April 23, 2009, written by Scott Shane. This is a relatively even-handed article that lays out the arguments for and against this justification. President Obama is mildly criticized in this piece. Summarized Shane said, "Starkly opposing narratives have arisen about what, if anything, was gained by the C.I.A.'s use of physical pressure to intimidate Qaeda operatives."

Fundamental disagreements -- "Torturers should be investigated, too," is what Roger Simon at Politico thinks today. Here is a bit of what he said:

. . . the president has stated on any number of occasions — and as he stated today — in saying, ‘I think we should be looking forward and not backward.’”

But justice often looks backward. That is what justice is largely about. We look back at actions and decide whether they were right or wrong, just or unjust, innocent acts or crimes against humanity.

. . . I thought we had gotten past all this. I thought we had established the fact that all people bear responsibility for their own actions and that saying, “I was just following memos” is not good enough.

Where are the prisoners? As it turns out, there are dozens of prisoners held by the CIA that are still missing and their fates remain unknown. Dafna Linzer, a reporter for the investigative journalism organization, ProPublica, reported this detailed information April 22. In response the CIA claimed that a list provided in the story is probably "flawed."

CQ - Behind the Lines excerpts:

President Obama yesterday left open the door for a “further accounting” on Bush administration use of harsh interrogation techniques, as well as possible prosecution of the federal lawyers who rationalized it, ReutersCaren Bohan recounts — as The New York TimesBrian Knowlton sees a newly declassified Senate report shedding more light on high-level approval of the tactics. In releasing the Bush-era “torture memos,” Obama’s lawyers spilled the beans on the methods used, “but pulled out its black marker when it came to the details of what those interrogations achieved,” ex-Bush speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen complains in the Washington Post — as to which, see Alex Koppelman’s Salon critique. “The memos prove we didn’t torture,” David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee Casey, meantime, banner in The Wall Street Journal. (4/22/09)

Feds: President Obama visited CIA headquarters yesterday in a gesture of reassurance following his release of Bush-era torture memos, The Associated PressPamela Hess reports — as The New York TimesPeter Baker and Scott Shane find momentum for a torture probe mounting. (4/21/09).

Commission on HT to Steve Clemons on Twitter for this very valuable resource. It is a way to sign on to a group effort by a number of heavy hitters in the human rights movement. It calls on the President to appoint a nonpartisan commission to investigate.


(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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