Sunday, April 19, 2009

These Are the First Dominoes

by Dee Newman

We are not a great nation (no matter how many times we tell ourselves otherwise) unless we have the courage to publicly admit our mistakes and take responsibility for them.

Despite Michael Hayden’s (the former Bush Administration C.I.A. Director) and Michael Mukasey’s (the former Bush Administration Attorney General) Wall Street Journal op-ed article and criticism of President Obama’s decision to declassify four of the infamous Bush administration’s “torture memos,” the President’s decision was not only correct, it was an enormous victory for the American people and defenders of the Constitution.

Hayden’s and Mukasey’s claim that President Obama’s release of the four “torture memos” have actually helped terrorists by revealing secret torture techniques that he and other presidents may want to use in the future is spurious.

Other Republican claims that declassifying the details of the Bush Administration’s “enhance interrogation techniques” by President Obama will, somehow, allow al Qaeda operatives to be trained to resist the rigors of captivity and interrogation is equally bogus.

The Bush Administration’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were leaked and disclosed to the public years ago and have been thoroughly discussed in the world press.

A recently released report from the International Red Cross contains detailed descriptions of the techniques sanctioned by the Bush Administration and used by the CIA and other government officials – such things as face-slapping; smashing suspects against a wall; confinement in small boxes; prolonged nudity; sleep deprivation; and yes, waterboarding. The same techniques detailed in the four “torture memos” released by the White House last Thursday.

The only technique that was new to the public in the memos was the use of an insect for a specific prisoner with an insect phobia.

What was actually revealed in the memos was not any new techniques unknown to terrorists, but the moral character of the Bush administration’s efforts to legalize and justify them.

Let’s be honest. It’s not extremely difficult to understand why Republicans and ex-Bush Administration officials (like Hayden and Mukasey) would want the Bush Administration’s illegal and immoral efforts to justify torture to remain secret.

Furthermore, the Bush Administration’s decisions to treat the Geneva Conventions as out-of-date, old fashion and “quaint” was not only immoral and un-American, it was illegal. Torture cannot be legally justified. Nor, does it produce useful intelligence. It does though, in fact, recruit terrorists. And, it endangers every U.S. soldier who may be captured in the future.

Any future President, who may wish to resorts to these techniques, needs to know that he or she will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Contrary to what has been claimed by the far left and the far right and what has been reported in the press, President Obama’s statement accompanying the release of the “torture memos,” did not, in fact, rule out any prosecution of officials involved in the Bush Administration’s torture programs.

Many in the media and on both sides of the political spectrum, it seems, have over-read the President’s statement.

What he said was this: "In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution."

When read carefully, the President only singled-out and assured those who carried out their duties "in good faith" would not be subject to legal prosecution.

He said nothing about what legal consequences might be in store for those interrogators who went beyond what the torture memos condoned. Nor, did he mention the legal fate of those who wrote the torture memos and those who created the torture program in the first place.

Torture is illegal! It is unconstitutional! The United States ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which prohibits torture and requires prosecution of torturers. The United States has prosecuted others for utilizing techniques describe in the “torture memos," including waterboarding.

No matter how good a lawyer you may be, you cannot justify or "legalize" what is illegal.

It is time for Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate this matter.

It is time for the Justice Department to make public the internal ethics report that is widely understood to be highly critical of the top Bush lawyers who drafted the “enhance interrogation memos,” including Jay S. Bybee, John C. Yoo and Steven G. Bradbury.

When released to the public the report should include referrals to state bar associations, which have the power to reprimand or disbar their members.

If our leaders are found to have violated our nation’s laws against torture by crafting and fabricating legal falsehood to justify torturing detainees, they should be criminally prosecuted.

The American Civil Liberties Union, whose lawsuit forced the release of the Justice Department memos last Thursday, plans to press the Justice Department to release other classified documents from the Bush era.

The lead attorney for the A.C.L.U., Jameel Jaffer, recently said, “These are the first dominoes . . . It will be difficult for the new administration to now argue that other documents can be lawfully withheld.”

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