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US: dealing with torture « Previous | |Next »
January 5, 2009

One of the issues the US needs to come terms with is its use of torture in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11. Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the CIA's secret "black sites, the policy of rendering and the Geneva Conventions not applying to the conflict with al-Qaeda signify the decent into torture.

In this review in the New York Review of Books David Cole says that Philippe Sands in Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values paints the following picture:

Through his interviews, he tells a story about how ordinary human beings, all working within an institution designed to fight by the rules, felt tremendous pressure to bend the rules—and in most cases did so without apparent concern or self-doubt. A narrowly pragmatic ethos guided virtually all actors. The real arguments were for the most part not about whether coercive tactics were legally or morally acceptable, but about whether they worked. But with the courageous exception of Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora, few argued that coercive tactics were wrong because they were immoral and illegal, whether or not they worked.

A reckoning is due since complicity in the torture policy reaches the very top of the Bush administration. The United States has never taken full responsibility for the crimes its high-level officials committed and authorized. However, there will be no prosecution since Congress, in the Military Commissions Act, granted retrospective immunity to officials involved in the interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects in the wake of September 11.

Cole cals for an independent bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission to investigate and assess responsibility for the United States' adoption of coercive interrogation policies. Will this happen?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:25 AM | | Comments (2)


Torture is seen by Scott Horton (in Harper's Magazine, 2008-12 "Justice after Bush: Prosecuting an outlaw administration, which I highly recommend) as the issue that best defines the criminality of Bush and Co, although Horton certainly covers other illegalities and assaults on the justice system.

Indeed, in weighing the enormity of the administration’s transgressions against the realistic prospect of justice, it is possible to determine not only the crime that calls most clearly for prosecution but also the crime that is most likely to be successfully prosecuted. In both cases, that crime is torture.

Horton sure hits the nail on the head:

This administration did more than commit crimes. It waged war against the law itself....No prior administration has been so systematically or so brazenly lawless.

Horton then indicates the implications:
Open criminality is a cancer on democracy. It implicates all who know of the conduct and fail to act. Such compliance presents a practical crisis, in that a government that is allowed to torture will inevitably transgress other legal limits. But it also presents an existential political crisis. Many democracies have simply collapsed as the people permitted their leaders to abandon the rule of law in the face of alleged external threats.

waging war against the law itself does give rise to a cancer within liberal constitutionalism founded on the rule of law.