America has never officially sanctioned torture, and that is precisely what the Bush Administration did. If we do not prosecute those who created and promulgated that official sanction, then we become part of it and it is no longer the Bush Administration sanctioning torture, it is the nation. That’s what is at stake here; not just retribution or punishment, but preserving the integrity of our nation.
Karl Rove refers to the present discourse as nothing more than a policy disagreement, but it is a great deal more than that. The Bush Administration had a policy of sanctioning the use of torture and the question is simple: do we allow that to become a national policy, or do we establish that it was a rogue policy limited to the Bush Administration.
Look, America has always used torture. That is a very unpleasant thing to face but I do not doubt it. Stories abound of the CIA taking a couple of North Vietnamese up in a helicopter, throwing one of them out at altitude and then questioning the other. In that war and in wars throughout history interrogators have faced the “ticking time bomb” scenario repeatedly. They have a captured enemy who they think knows the details of an impending attack on our forces and are determined to obtain that information. That torture was ever successful in doing so is doubtful, but that hasn’t stopped interrogators from doing it in case after case.
In resorting to torture those historical interrogators knew that they were breaking the law. They were not ordered to do what they did, and they did not ask anyone if what they were doing was legal. They knew that if what they were doing was brought into the light of day it would reflect badly on their nation and would have disastrous consequences for them personally.
What they did was not sanctioned by their superiors or by their nation.
In a way they could be considered heroes; their intention was to save lives. They put the welfare of the troops ahead of their own scruples and their own safety vis a vis the law. But they are dangerous and despicable people and whenever possible they should be prosecuted and, when judged guilty, punished severely. They broke the law, they committed crimes against humanity, and they put at risk the reputation of their nation.
For the first time in the history of our nation this activity was not the work of rogue interrogators, but was the officially sanctioned policy, passed down from the top and carried out in the form of individuals following orders.
For a time the Bush Administration tried to conceal the treatment that they had applied to “detainees.” When they could no longer do that they tried to redefine that treatment so that it was no longer “torture” and therefore not illegal. That has now failed and they are trying the argument that it obtained valuable information, that it “worked.”
It doesn’t matter whether it worked or not, it is a crime against humanity.
Even if it did “work,” even if it saved hundreds of thousands of lives, we should thank them for their work, maybe pin a medal on them, and then lock them in a maximum security prison for the rest of their lives.
Resolution will not be reached if this nation absolves anyone who participated in the officially sanctioned policy of torturing captives, as Barack Obama seems passionately determined to do. All traces of that official sanction must be expunged.
I am not reading too much into his release of the latest memos, much as I admire his willingness to do so. Some say the release is political calculation to further an eventual investigation into the torture program, but it could equally be a political calculation that refusing to release them would have created a firestorm against him that he was unwilling to face.
His statement releasing the responsibility for the investigation decision to Eric Holder has been accompanied by a host of rather strongly worded messages that such an investigation would be highly unwelcome by the man who appointed him to that office and at whose pleasure he serves.
"There's a host of very complicated issues involved there. As a general deal, I think we should be looking forward and not backward.
"I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively, and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations."
And, of course, he has very specifically promised that those who performed the actual crimes will not only face no prosecution, but will keep their jobs in the national intelligence organization. So, while we are no longer committing these crimes, we are still employing the people who did so and are employing them in the same positions which they held when they committed the crimes.
Exactly how our President can do that and then say with a straight face that “we are a nation of laws” is completely beyond me.
It is also beyond my ability to comprehend how we can be expected to accept the argument that a crime against humanity is permissible national policy because it serves our purpose. That’s like a bank robber pleading to a judge that his bank robbery was okay because he succeeded in getting the money, money which he needed very badly, and therefor the robbery was not wrong. No judge would buy that argument.
Nor should we buy the argument that “torture works.”