Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Boggled by the Torture Memo

Someone has to walk the plank. Someone needs to be tried in a court of international law. In fact, several “someones” need to be tried in a court of international law.

Over the past 72 hours, there’s been a lot of gnashing of teeth since the Wall Street Journal released the Department of Justice’s “Torture Memo”. And I suspect there would have been much more ink given to this issue had Ronald Reagan not passed into conservative sainthood. I’ve spent a few days actually trying to make sense of the memo before commenting, and I think more importantly, trying to divine why the memo was written in the first place.

The purpose of the memo is crystal clear – to define the legal parameters of the word “torture”, and to analyze levels of responsibility (or should we say, “culpability”). The why? How about these bullet points: to provide justification for interrogation methodology (torture), to provide cover for those performing the torture, and to absolve those leaders who endorsed the methodologies.

That the Bush Administration had to even seek this counsel is profoundly disturbing, and so in my mind, the document clearly establishes premeditation on the part of the Bush Administration in the methods used for interrogation and torture at both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

What strikes me about the 56 pages (many more seem to be missing, and some of the existing document is redacted) is the tone and texture of the memo. I find it frightening that a warm blooded human being(s) actually wrote such interpretations, with obvious full knowledge that whatever interpretations were made would most certainly be brought to bear on other warm blooded living human beings somewhere on the planet.

That the President and his subordinates in all applicable sectors of the government saw the need for such an in-depth analysis of the topic of torture is nothing short of eye popping. The brutality that this document endorses (and aptly demonstrated in the torture pictures from Abu Ghraib) is unconscionable. Perhaps even more unconscionable is that we as citizens of this country have come to accept this kind of thing as "de rigueur". It’s how we do business. It’s who we are.

What have we become?

As a supposedly "enlightened" society, what have we become that we accept electroded testicles and anal rape by lightstick in as cold of terms as the lawyer(s) that wrote it? What have we become that we accept the physical humiliation of a teenage son in front of his father as “just a few soldiers blowing off steam”?

The bottom line is that most people don't want to think. They don't want to understand. Thinking about stuff like this is both time consuming and mentally untidy. But by not speaking out, by not expressing institutional outrage, we’ve told those in power that we accept their verdict.

That congressional representatives of both parties are not outraged to the point of a public primal scream boggles my mind. The Democratic representatives on the Senate Judiciary Committee seem to get it. The Republicans don't. Yet when John Ashcroft was held to account for the memo, representatives from both parties let Ashcroft walk out of the hearing room under his own power rather than in shackles.

Look, I’m just expressing my outrage. There are well-constructed cases here, here, and here that what happened in Abu Ghraib (and what's probably happening on an even grander scale in Guantanamo Bay) are absolute war crimes. One thing the "torture memo" establishes for me is a clear chain of responsibility - the memo establishes that the buck actually does stop somewhere. With George W. Bush. Absent other information not available in the memo, it is clear that any such directives for imprisonment, interrogation, and torture must come from the President. He and only he has the power to make those decisions.

It's not a matter of inference. If Rumsfeld said "OK, do it", without specific approval from Bush, then Rumsfeld is guilty of many, many crimes. Even if he did it with specific knowledge and approval of George W. Bush, he's not in the clear. And neither is Bush.

In the final analysis, the "torture memo" presents strategies for avoiding (or arguing against) international war crimes tribunals. Never mind the moral and ethical terpitude of the memo. The memo amounts to "How to Avoid War Crime Tribunals For Dummies".

So, how are you going to respond? Expressing outrage on the internet is a wonderful thing. But guess what? The press and opinion makers don’t read these blogs. Attitudes don’t change. More importantly, policy doesn’t change because we’re just viewed as a gaggle of internet rabble rousers. Which is fine with the powers-that-be. As long as your butt is planted in your chair, and your eyes are glued to the monitor, and your fingers are dancing across the keyboard, nothing changes.

Let me type that again.

Nothing changes.

Will you let the revelations of the “torture memo” slide into the dustbin of yesterday’s soundbite, or let it be the motivation that finally moves you to some action?

From the Washington Post:

"There is no justification, legal or moral, for the judgments made by Mr. Bush's political appointees at the Justice and Defense departments. Theirs is the logic of criminal regimes, of dictatorships around the world that sanction torture on grounds of "national security." For decades the U.S. government has waged diplomatic campaigns against such outlaw governments -- from the military juntas in Argentina and Chile to the current autocracies in Islamic countries such as Algeria and Uzbekistan -- that claim torture is justified when used to combat terrorism. The news that serving U.S. officials have officially endorsed principles once advanced by Augusto Pinochet brings shame on American democracy -- even if it is true, as the administration maintains, that its theories have not been put into practice."