Thursday, January 15, 2009

Walk of Shame

It's probably a good idea to preface what I'm about to say with a quick fact: I was in New York City two days after September 11th, 2001; I covered the aftermath of the attack that leveled the World Trade Center both from ground zero and from the 69th Regiment Armory at 25th and Lexington, which was where many of the families of those missing and presumed dead were sent to have their cases processed. I held in my arms men and women who'd just lost loved ones and who were, at that moment, devastated remnants of the people they had been just a few days earlier. Because of all this, I felt an electrified rush of jingoistic venom like nothing I'd ever experienced before. I wanted to see those responsible for the catastrophic anguish around me not simply brought to justice, but made to suffer in the most excruciating way possible. The people who brought down the World Trade Center -- and part of the Pentagon, and a commercial jet full of innocents in Pennsylvania -- deserved to die, and die horribly. They still do.

I need to make all of these experiences and these feelings clear, because maybe if I do it will help to lend a certain kind of weight to what I think now has to be said.

George W. Bush and members of his administration should be investigated and stand trial for their crimes -- for their trampling of the Constitution, their illegal and unnecessary war, launched under false pretenses, against a country that didn't pose a clear and present danger to the United States and, most egregiously and despicably, their illicit and explicit approval of the torture of enemy prisoners.

Last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee released a report detailing the Bush Administration's fingerprints on a plan, first hatched in 2002, to reverse-engineer the SERE training (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape) given to some U.S. special forces units. The object of SERE is to teach special-ops personnel how to withstand the kind of interrogation methods they could face if captured by countries or militias that don't honor the Geneva Conventions. It was the creative idea of the White House to have SERE instructors turn around and teach torture techniques to covert interrogation teams involved in the War on Terror.

For years, this underground program remained largely and safely removed from public scrutiny; although it was in fact reported on, the administration engaged in its usual obfuscation and deflection while quietly charging those who dared to ask too many questions with being unpatriotic in a time of war. Over the past couple of weeks, though -- maybe emboldened by knowledge that their time is almost up and that they'll likely never be held accountable for their actions -- the Bush Administration's chief architects of this plan have begun, Colonel Nathan Jessup-style, to admit that they ordered the Code Red and would do it again if given the chance. Dick Cheney in particular confirmed in no uncertain terms that the U.S. tortured al Qaeda prisoners and all but dared potential critics to do anything about it.

He knows he can be as forthcoming -- to say nothing of brash and arrogant -- as he likes right now, because he knows that he's right: His critics in the incoming administration aren't going to do a goddamned thing about any of it. They'll talk tough -- say they're not ruling anything out and that investigating the past transgressions of the Bush clan is always on the table. But when all is said and done -- in other words, next Tuesday -- it will end the same way for Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, et al: They'll live out their lives in expensive homes far from Washington, DC, counting the money they're making from honorary corporate positions and speaking engagements. And they'll sleep very, very well -- with clear consciences.

The problem is that many of the Bush Administration's sins, with special attention paid to the issue of authorized torture, don't qualify as a simple case of a bunch of guys improvising during an unprecedented time in American history -- doing the best they could with what they had. George W. Bush and his cronies broke the law. Willfully. Wantonly. And if we truly adhere to the belief that no one is above the law, then that makes them all criminals.

I'm more than willing to admit that, from a political perspective, any attempt by incoming president Barack Obama to prosecute members of the Bush White House would be a lousy idea, one sure to be met with resentment from many of the leaders he needs to work with and outrage from a portion of the country he needs to help heal. Most Americans who consider the Bush era to be a dark age in our history are content to see its engineers and enablers thrown out on their asses, their lasting legacy one of unmitigated shame. Most people just want to move forward; that's what electing Barack Obama was all about. But if we remove the political question, what we're left with is solely a legal one: Did Bush and company break the law?

Again, they did.

And this country's standing and stature can't be restored simply by swinging a U-turn and looking toward a new kind of future without taking responsibility for the mistakes of the past. We'll never get our respect -- self and otherwise -- back if we just pretend like the last eight years never happened and let the men behind one of our nation's most embarrassing periods quietly walk away from the disastrous mess they made.

We don't torture. That's not who we are -- not what this country is about.

What we're about is bringing the guilty to justice.

Whether it's a foreign terrorist or a U.S. president.


mike said...

Ratifying the War Crimes Treaty would be a nice place to start, but something tells me that's not going to happen.

Anonymous said...

Dahlia Lithwich on Rachel Maddow put it in perspective: If there were a mountain of evidence that they had robbed a bank rather than that they had committed war crimes, we wouldn't even be having a conversation about it.

And what kind of precedent does it set to let this go? Are we really declaring, to ourselves and to the rest of the world, that all our rhetoric is b.s., 'cause turns out there are some people who are above the law, after all. Can we live with that?

Heather said...

If the new administration would have a hard time prosecuting him, then who should do it? A ballsy DA somewhere? I agree that they need to be tried for the crap they pulled, but the problem is with finding the person to do it.

Anonymous said...

Isn't there some way we can at least get Cheney? What a Dick!

Chez said...

What's interesting is that I haven't always felt this way. I mean, first of all, there's no way it's gonna happen; this whole thing is very likely going to just be put behind us. Beyond that, though, I was on board with the whole moving-forward thing -- in spite of everything Bush has done over the past eight years, the corruption and treachery and lawlessness -- until they just came out and admitted that they tortured people. They're so fucking arrogant. These people truly deserve to not be able to get away with what they've done.

Michael said...

The thing that pisses me off to no end is the false logic that Pres. Elect Obama uses to deflect this question. "We are looking forward." To me, if he was actually looking far enough forward, he would realize that by NOT investigating and holding people responsible he is setting the most dangerous legal precedent that he can. By allowing this to go unpunished, someone in the future is going to use that as an excuse to defend whatever terrible acts they may take in the future.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully many other countries will declare Bush and his cronies war criminals. Then they would dare not travel outside of the US. It would be so sweet to see George W., Cuntasleeza and Cheney etal on trial for war crimes in a foreign land. It would be especially sweet if it occurred in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought... Can Bush "pardon" himself & his cronies in advance of an investigation regarding war crimes? Speaking of precedents, that would surely be one. I'm not enough of a legal thinking individual to know the ins & outs of presidential pardons, but just wonder if any scenario of this is possible.

Chez said...

It's already been talked about that he may proactively pardon his cronies as well as anyone associated with illegal interrogations -- of course that would prove they were illegal.

As for being arrested by a foreign government, some have already surmised that it could very well happen if any of them leaves American soil -- a la Pinochet.

aaron said...

Olson Johnson's right about Gabby Johnson being right! But I for one think Obama should keep his hands clear of anything smelling of partisan retribution. Delegate that to an independent tribunal, or better yet, just send Bush, Cheney, & co on a victory tour of Iraq and arrange for their protection to have a failure in a dangerous area. I'm sure the Iraqis have their own justice system operational by now..not necessarily involving courts.

Alex said...

Is everyone in the country so dumb as to take an Obama admininistration-led investigation as "partisan retribution." Can't everyone just see that it is American retribution and our legal system at work? I mean, FUCK!

aauais said...

maybe the Iraqis can shoe them to death? Chez immediately prepare a shipment of size 10.5 chuck connors - they are lightweight and will be relatively green as they will waste little jetfuel and also do not cotain leather.

Even myself - a diehard Republican - agree with you that they broke the law. Unfortunately, I doubt a foreign govt would ever indict or arrest any of them. Sure we'll go after former leaders of some shitty eastern european country or a poor african country but forget tackling someone like Bush or Cheney. What is the rest of the world going to do? Place economic sanctions on us? That is the sad part that they did this knowing nothing would ever happen.

I am with you Chez - I too was angry with what happened on Sept 11

I now realize though that the recklessness that followed those days caused suffering for many innocent people. Unlike, in 24 the info or intel we got was probably pretty useless anyway.

History will the only judge in this case - unless Aaron's option occurs or the shoe shipment goes through. Some years from now one of the presidents will apologize to the world for what we did - but it won't be till our kids are our age. Think how long it took us to apologize to the Japanese Americans or admit we screwed the Native Americans.

Mart said...

Remember how the Admin let the grunts take the fall for the crimes they ordered take place. And how the Dem leadership is scared to go there as they were "briefed" and complicit on all this. Rendition. No habeus corpus. How the establishment media is working the refs to move on (see this weeks "Newsweek" for a prime example.) And don't forget retroactive immunity for corporations illegally wiretapping, corrupting the Dept of Justice, outing a spy and the fronting firm responsible for tracking Iran's WMD. And on and on.

Lesson learned - Laws don't apply to the powers that be. If Obama can not look partisan and all this flies, what is stopping Obama from being a felon?

PS - Torture does not work according to the ones who did the torturing. Those being tortured generally tell you what they think you want to hear so it stops. This isn,t an episode of "24". Now we can not prosecute those we tortured 'cause they have been tortured.

Fred said...

I agree with Anon 3:22. Let them be declared war criminals by the rest of the world.

There should be more to it- If they mysteriously disappeared one night and then a few weeks later turned up in another country for trial, I would go to that nation's embassy or consulate and shake every hand I could in a show of support.

Barring that, if BushCo all ended up dying in some way that would be even better.

Web Dunce said...

Never say never. Obama has more on his plate right now than any other president elect except for Roosevelt and Lincoln. There are immediate emergency items that need his and his administration's full attention on day one. However, over the next 4 (hopefully 8) years I think that we will see some real closure on the torture issue. True, it can't look like partisan pay back, but consider for a moment the way Obama is always one step ahead of everyone when it comes to strategy. I have faith that when the time is right his administration will take action. I have to believe it - because frankly, I can't take anymore political bullshit. On the very near horizon it will again be cool to be American. We have elected a true leader who happens to also be incredibly popular and dare I say hip. Can't we just enjoy this moment - brief as it may turn out to be - before assuming the worst on the torture issue?

Pants said...

The ICC (International Criminal Court) is a stone throw away from me in The Hague, but I doubt we'll indict them. It is what would be just, but I agree the smart thing to do now is to move forward. The election of Obama served a crushing blow to the cynics and selfish right wingers who didn't mind getting blood on their hands in exchange for money. What he needs to do now is to fix the trust issues with the American people and the rest of the world and show that yes he can. When he has made some changes for the better and has earned that trust back, he will have the power to hunt each and everyone of them down and rob them of what they value most. Their money, their public facade, and their false claims of righteousness.

I don't care how long I have to wait. I'm pretty sure I'll still enjoy the hell out of watching Bush and Cheney eat dirt 8 years from now.

Chez said...

While I'd obviously be disgusted by it above all, there's a small part of me that would love to see Bush and Cheney indicted by the Hague. It would be such a blow to that entire era and the mode-of-thinking that spawned it -- to put the men at the forefront of it on par with third world despots.

Benoit from Ottawa said...

I agree with those who think nothing will happen. Perhaps a third level country who's leader is poorly disposed towards the U.S., for instance Venezuela's Chavez, will bring something before the U.N. or the World Court, but then with what results? None.

I feel certain no major or second tier country (like Canada) will, would EVER want to succeed in bringing any such actions. I don't even think Russia would want to stir that can o' worms.

Point: It's been a scant eight years since the world started witnessing, quite a few times, just how much and how steadfastly Americans will stand behind their commander-in-chief, even if they think he's a major ****-up.

As we all know (I think), an American president does not stop being a "president" when out of office. Hence the previous loyalty (more accurately the previous standing-behind the said ****-up) tends to remain.

Most other countries' people will not want to **** around with an ex-president of the U.S. (and his ex-minions), even if he's now discredited and even derided.

The high road's the only way.

We're just lucky an intelligent man was elected. Knock on wood the american political disease of the sixties* doesn't recur.

*Kennedies, King

Anonymous said...

No one had the balls to prosecute or expose them while they held office(at least not anyone with any authority), and it sure as hell isn't going to happen after the fact. This country is sick with greed and these men and their allies write the checks.

It's been an incredibly frustrating 8 years, and the sooner it's over, the better....unless everybody really wants to be reminded again of how WE ALL allowed it to get so fucked up.