Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday Is Recycling Day

Putting a twist on the admittedly crass joke that you should never trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn't die, it's not a good idea to trust something that's still alive after four five heart-attacks. Alas, Dick Cheney once again suffers pain where his heart should be but will likely come out of the whole thing none the worse for wear. Still, news of his hospitalization caps a two week period that saw him admit on national television that he endorsed war crimes and, not coincidentally, get a standing ovation from the psychopath crowd at CPAC. A few days before Barack Obama's inauguration last year, I wrote a piece expressing support for the idea that the incoming administration might be willing to consider formal charges against members of the Bush White House who wantonly violated the law during their time in office. I stand by it even now, while resigning myself to the fact that it was always a naive thing to hope for.

"Walk of Shame" (Originally Published, 1.15.09)

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.


Ethnic Redneck said...

Neocons just can't help themselves: They HAVE to act like the bad guys in a Hollywood action movie, it's in their genes. Their piss-soaked, barely-functional genes.

Norm said...

Laughable. I would expect that you, Chez, would be at least a bit more original and a tad bit above resorting to tired rhetoric and inflamed charges. You criticize the CPAC, Beck, Palin, etc. for being "dumb" when you do the same thing, just from the other side.

I suggest you study up on the definition of a war crime. Further, what, exactly, was *illegal* about either war?

Chez said...

Nothing dumb about it, Norm. Waterboarding is classified as torture by dozens of countries and even more military experts and human rights groups, and it meets the standard for violation of article three of the Geneva Convention. Torturing a prisoner during an armed conflict constitutes a war crime. The Bush administration approved the waterboarding of prisoners. Following the logic?

As for illegal -- you're kidding, right? First of all, I never claimed Afghanistan was illegal. I've done nothing but support the fight in Afghanistan (which you'd know if you didn't just pop in once in awhile looking to one-up me because it makes you feel good).

As for Iraq -- exactly how many times will you tolerate being lied to before you get pissed off, especially when those lies got American soldiers and a hell of a lot of civilians killed? Or would it just depend on who was telling the lies, since as long as it was someone you generally agreed with politically that would seem to be alright.

You really need to get some new material, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Bill White's going to love this shit.

Eric said...

Norm, I don't know if I should say anything or not--aside from the fact your comment was directed to the host, not his guests, I don't know that further comment is worth the effort--but I'll give this a brief shot.

"War crime" is vernacular that in this case might be a little off-putting. What we're talking about is the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty which was signed by then-President Ronald Reagan and ratified by Congress in, IIRC, 1988 with appropriate enabling legislation passed that made torture a Federal felony punnishable by imprisonment or even, potentially, death. While I'm not personally a big fan of Reagan, the CAT was undeniably a noble accomplishment of his administration and something Reagan pushed hard for and was justifiably proud of.

If waterboarding was torture, any and all Americans who participated in and/or ordered it are subject to prosecution. This question should actually be fairly simple to answer, in spite of some murky rationalizations offered by American torture suspects and their defenders. First, the CAT itself offers a definition, which is American law under both the Federal enabling legislation enacted pursuant to ratifying the CAT and under Article VI of the Constitution:

For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Second, there is the historical nature of the act itself: waterboarding dates at least to the Spanish Inquisition, when it was used to coerce confessions of heresy. Waterboarding also was used by the Gestapo, and after WWII Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American POWs were tried--for war crimes, if you want to use the vernacular.

Thirdly, there is the legal history of waterboarding, including not only the WWII war crimes prosecution noted above, but also a 1983 case in which Reagan's DOJ prosecuted a sheriff in Texas for waterboarding prisoners (discussion of precedent can be found here at AlterNet).

And for the record, Norm: American obligations under CAT are non-partisan. Not only would one expect Democrats to be prosecuted if they tortured, but the CAT creates an obligation for the Obama Administration to investigate and probably to prosecute acts of torture, with political expediency expressly forbidden as a reason not to enforce the law. There are plenty of us on the left who consider the apparent refusal of the Obama Administration to fully investigate and/or prosecute to be not merely a disappointment or moral failing, but illegal. There is some room for arguing about whether failure to prosecute torture is itself prosecutable; I personally take the view that the Obama Administration may be opening itself to future prosecutions as Accessories-After-The-Fact, conspiracy to commit a felony, or Obstruction Of Justice.

I hope that was educational.