Let’s acknowledge that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that included the infamous waterboarding of suspected al Qaeda terrorists were a violation of international law. No responsible international law expert argues otherwise.
Let’s also acknowledge that those techniques were also a violation of United States law, as most jurists and lawyers, apart from Bush administration apologists, assert.
Let’s finally agree that the current administration, as stated by the president himself, has re-established as a matter of U.S. policy and law that the United States does not engage in acts of torture and that, implicit in that statement is the recognition that the actions and policies of the previous administration that permitted and encouraged the use of torture were clearly illegal.
What remains to be decided if those points are all accepted is whether those who engaged in or authorized those actions should be prosecuted by their own country.
On this point, the debate has been multi-faceted. The Bush-Cheney apologists, principally consisting to this point of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, argue vociferously that those responsible not be prosecuted.
In fact, if the Cheney argument (that waterboarding and its kin actually saved American lives) is taken to its logical conclusion, the American initiators and perpetrators of torture over the last seven years probably deserve medals akin to those awarded to Paul Bremer and George Tenet by President Bush for their roles in the war in Iraq.
The current president takes what might be considered a more lenient position. Obama argues, somewhat incoherently in the view of his critics, that prosecutions for carrying out illegal orders would be wrong, while he leaves open the possibility that some who authorized the techniques might be subject to prosecution provided the Attorney General makes such a decision. He is less open to prosecutions resulting from the study of a “commission” or a Congressional inquiry.
And then there are those, epitomized by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who adamantly demand that those responsible for the criminal acts perpetrated against terrorist suspects be fully prosecuted. At the least, Leahy and many of his colleagues argue that the “rule of law” requires that past-committed crimes are no less crimes because they have ceased to be committed. (The point sounds so obvious as to be laughable, but it is made in an effort to thwart the apparent attempts by Mr. Obama to leave the past to history, presumably so as to deal more forcefully with the real problems/crises of the present.)
The debate might well be almost trivial for most Americans as the country struggles to regain its economic bearings. Most average folks are more concerned with whether their retirement accounts are going to be worth anything when they need them than they are with whether CIA agents and government policy-makers should be sent to jail for doing nasty things to people who were intent on killing Americans.
But it is for precisely this reason, the lack of concern and interest by most Americans, that a vigorous prosecution should be explored of all who were involved in the perpetration of acts against enemy belligerents that, if those belligerents had inflicted those acts on Americans, would have led to an international tribunal to bring the guilty to justice. (Indeed, just such tribunals were commissioned to try and punish Japanese perpetrators of similar acts of torture following the allies’ defeat of Japan in World War II.)
In the end, however, the question isn’t so much one of bring wrong-doers to justice as it is rediscovering a country’s soul.
Under George W. Bush, America lost its way. Buffeted by the 9/11 attacks, most Americans rightly felt outrage. Patriotic fervor soared, as did the president’s approval ratings. He stood for the country, and the country stood with him. When Bush led the country to war against the Afghanistan government that had provided a safe haven for the 9/11 terrorists, the country, and much of the rest of the world, was united behind him. But that president and his administration were negligently, if not criminally, misguided in their identification of the over-riding purpose of that war.
The “war on terrorism” was an all-too convenient moniker for what soon became an American “crusade” – as Bush initially referred to it – in which any means that had the potential of crushing anti-American terrorist plots was deemed legitimate. By so defining the war, the Bush administration was able to justify torture. And, as the record will most likely establish when all the evidence is revealed, the acts of torture that surfaced at Abu Ghraib were not isolated incidents, but were rather implicitly authorized and sanctioned by the highest levels of the U.S. government.
The Justice Department memos, by John Yoo, Jay Bybee and others, that claimed to authorize as lawful specific acts of torture, were another aspect of this misguided purpose. No longer was America acting lawfully; it was, instead, creating its own ad hoc view of the law, modifying it to meet its own designs.
This line of thinking – something of a variant on “the end justifies the means” – also led to the invasion of Iraq, an act that marked the first time a major war had been initiated by the United States without any basis of lawfulness other than a claim of “preemption,” another word created out of thin air to justify what would otherwise be unjustifiable conduct.
So, why then must those responsible for the acts of enhanced interrogation (note the creation of yet another “convenient” term) that were really torture, pure and simple, be prosecuted by the current government of the United States?
Because only by fully revealing to the American public what its leaders perpetrated can the people who elected those leaders begin to take responsibility for their part in those acts. Only by gaining a sense of what led to those decisions can the country acclimate itself once again to its own moral compass.
Only by accepting the horrors of torture, of unjustified war, of illegal wiretaps, of unconstitutional detentions, of the politicization of the Justice Department, of the destruction of the rule of law, can America rediscover its soul.
How appropriate! I just took a little break from studying for my criminal procedure final when I decided to check “Meals”.
Now, I’m no lawyer, but I do know that torture and unreasonable searches and seizures are patently illegal.
I never understood how these abuses were taking place when we all were aware of them. How is this possible? Our very own government? Violating the most sacred of rights? Why aren’t people screaming about this? Where are the Tea Baggers on this issue? Where are all the nutty gun people who claim it’s really about protecting our Constitutional rights? What about the Pro-Lifers? How come they aren’t getting a hand in, screaming about the “sanctity of human life” ? A blastula deserves more protection than adults being subjected to TORTURE?! Where did all the God people go? How come they aren’t slapping “Jesus says no to torture” bumper stickers on the back of their SUVs?
Now while I’m no constitutional law scholar (and I never will be if my midterm score is an indicator. . .) but my understanding is that the government doesn’t get to play fast and loose with the Bill of Rights whenever they feel like it. It doesn’t matter how serious the offenses are, everybody is entitled to the protections guaranteed by the US Constitution.
Doesn’t our legal system operate under the axiom that it is better to let nine guilty people go free than to deprive even one person of their life, liberty, etc, etc,? There is a reason that it is so difficult to convict a criminal–even the worst offenders. We (and by “we”, I mean the Framers) intentionally made it difficult on the government. As it should be. The government shouldn’t be able to take whatever they want whenever they want, willy nilly.
And according to the Fifth Amendment of our Constitution (in fact, I have it right here): “No person. . .shall be. . .deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law?
Didn’t we establish a long time ago that “due process” includes that no one should be forced to be a witness against himself, that the accused has the right to counsel. . .
And didn’t we also decide a long time ago that coercive tactics by law enforcement against those in custody are in fact a violation of the Fifth? And isn’t “torture” considered just a tad bit coercive? Whatever happened to notions of Due Process? Fundamental fairness? Those go out the window because there’s a “War on Terror”?
And how reliable is evidence obtained through coercive tactics, anyway? Won’t people say anything when they are under extreme duress? Didn’t they find that defendants confess to crimes they didn’t commit all the time thinking they can wiggle out of whatever horrible circumstances they are under? Or simply point fingers at some other guy in the hopes of getting to keep all their fingers?
We can’t abuse people regardless of how horrible they are or the horrendous nature of their crimes. The US Constitution protects even the most odious characters. It is in our best interest to protect even the vilest offender because that is what protects us all.
If there are no consequences to violating the government, then it will happen again and again. The end’s never justify the means in our legal system. It’s why our police are so scrupulous about “going by the book.” Because they know that if that search is illegal (by violating the Fourth), whatever evidence comes out of that search, is inadmissible at trial. It’s with this knowledge they pause before deciding whether to enter someone’s residence or why they take their time filling out that search warrant. What gives laws teeth are the ramifications attached to the violation.
Without these deterrents, our Constitution, like some justice somewhere once said, will be widdled down to nothing more than mere words. Otherwise, they are just there for show. And then, what? Then what is the difference between living in the United States and living in Iran or Saudi Arabia (or any number of other hell holes with horrible dictators)?
People should be demanding prosecution of the individuals responsible for such travesty. There needs to be accountability. Not only to bring justice to the direct victims of government abuse, but to defend the integrity of our Constitution. No one should be above the law. Especially not those we elect to defend the Constitution and our laws. Accepting such violations of our rights and values, means we are tacitly condoning their actions. The Constitution should be more than just a bunch of pretty, but empty words!
It just scares me–more than a little–that people sit back idly while their basic freedoms are slowly eroding.
Viking Daughter says
Your last paragraph eloquently stated it all.
It’s time to find our souls. Question how we, as an American people, can allow, ignore, justify ”enhanced interrogation” and yet take to the streets on issues of taxes.
I read Ashley’s comment, and found myself nodding my head.
How is it we can persecute the young lady involved in the Abu Ghraib torture (note, I used the proper word) and ignore the big boys who were behind her behaviour? Many of the photos/videos were not disclosed. Why? Because the might just wake people up to terms such as ”enhanced interrogation.”
We, as humans, as citizens of the U.S. have become so blinded by our patriotism and our own fears, that treating even those who are deemed ”suspects” requires brutal tactics to get ”confessions” from those we accuse. Confessions under torture should not even be considered an atom’s weight of truth.
Hiding, or not revealing the evidence of torture won’t work. Eventually, they get ”leaked” out.
We, the people, should be upholding our Constitution. We, the people, who protest in the name of God must question our beliefs in God, regardless of religious affiliation, and ask ourselves how we can scream at the ”right” to have God in our state preambles, and yet behave in such an ”ungodly” manner.
I call this poetic hypocrisy.
Great points, Ed.
Kelly Brown says
The best information i have found exactly here. Keep going Thank you