Part I of II
The word “crisis” is frequently being used these days to describe the state of our nation. Usually this is used to refer to our economic situation, but there is another crisis that is quietly shaking the modern American power structure as we know it. Many facts of the torture that has occurred in the past seven years have come to the surface thanks to investigative journalists like New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, who published the definitive book on the subject, “The Dark Side.” Facts have also come to light as a result of the recently released bipartisan report from the Senate Armed Services Committee headed by Carl Levin and John McCain.
Politicians and the media elite are currently arguing about the best way to deal with these quite grim revelations. Some are arguing that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice, while others argue that we “need to look to the future instead of to the past.”
A handful of reporters, however, are still trying to sell the old hook-and-bait about how torture got out of control due to a few at the bottom ranks, which is where the responsibility lies.
In a Newsweek cover story from Jan. 10 titled “Obama’s Cheney Dilemma,” Stu Taylor and Evan Thomas write, “It’s likely that the take-the-gloves-off attitude of Cheney and his allies filtered down through the ranks, until untrained prison guards with sadistic tendencies were making sport with electric shock. But no direct link has been reported.”
This is simply not the case. Many of the techniques that caused the U.S. so much shame during the Abu Ghraib scandal – use of dogs, phobias, mock executions, stress positions, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, beatings – were all signed off by the president.
The Senate report states, “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
The soldiers following orders, like Lynndie England, who was initially sentenced to 16 years in prison, took the fall while President Bush, who bore responsibility for approving these measures said that he was “abhorred” by what occurred and that “this is not America.”
Others argue that it is only, as Washington Post columnist David Ignatius said, “liberal score-settlers,” who want to investigate Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Tenet and other architects of the post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” methods – a direct translation of “Verschrfte Vernehmung” which is how the Nazis described what they did during World War II. This sentiment, which could be used to describe the majority of opinion of those in power, comes in two strands.
The first thought-process states that administration officials did this out of a noble intent to protect and save American lives and because of this the abuses and negligence – which they admit led to some disastrous results – should be overlooked. The argument is and has been a universal one that has been used by many to legitimize their ugly actions.
As Glenn Greenwald, a writer and blogger for Salon, notes, “Ask supporters of Fidel Castro why he imprisoned dissidents and created a police state and they’ll tell you – accurately – that he was the head of a small, defenseless island situated 90 miles to the South of a huge, militaristic superpower that repeatedly tried to overthrow his government and replace it with something it preferred … Iranian mullahs really do face internal, foreign-funded revolutionary groups that are violent and which seek to overthrow them.”
The second, and more popular, argument admits that abuses were made and laws were broken, but for the sake of moving the country forward, the torture legacy of the past eight years must be overlooked. This argument may be the more dangerous one, since it basically argues that laws can be ignored.
Article 2 of the 1984 U.N. Convention Against Torture, which was led by Americans, states:
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
These treaties are not just legal niceties that the United States can do away with when it is “expedient,” as President Obama described the excuse; in Article VI, the Constitution states that “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”
The torture convention also goes on to state that each individual states will “ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law” which the United States has done including torture it in their criminal code.
The process follows that, as president, it is Barack Obama’s legal duty and obligation to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” as he swore when taking the Oath of Office, which includes international treaties as the “supreme law of the land.” It is, then, his legal duty to prosecute all those involved who took part in torture, without exception.
Part I of II