Upon the revelation that the Obama administration finally moved to codify a drone policy — but only in case they lost the election and Romney took up the Ring of Power instead — Glenn Greenwald calls out the many Democrats who have forsaken their prior civil liberties stances to prop up this sort of obviously unconstitutional behavior by “Our Team.”
See also Marcy Wheeler on this issue, who along with offering an informed and in-depth view of the big picture, has unleashed some devastating tweets of late. To wit: “Shorter Scott Shane: Drone Rule Book exists for NYT A1, but not for ACLU’s grubby little FOIAs.“
I’ve said this before, but there’s an easy available metaphor to explain why what the administration is doing here is so unhealthy and reprehensible. As with the Ring, so too with indefinite detention, state secrets, extrajudicial assassinations, unmitigated use of drones, and the rest of the dark tools comprising today’s GWOT arsenal. It does not matter who tries to wield them — they will corrupt regardless, not to mention leave a trail of undeserving dead in their wake.
So, yes, as you may have heard, we finally found Osama Bin Laden, fulfilling a key promise President Obama made during the 2008 campaign. While I would have preferred to see the perpetrator of 9/11 captured alive and brought to trial — cause that’s how we do justice here in the US of A — congrats to the president’s team, the analysts who did the hard work, and the men and women who executed the operation, on finally getting their man.
All that being said, the second half of the president’s statement above is troubling. The death of Bin Laden should mark the beginning of the end of the 9/11 decade. With the splinter finally removed, it is time to take a long hard look not just at our continuing war in Afghanistan — after all, Osama was eventually found in Pakistan, mainly through what the Bunk would call good po-lice work — but at all the questionable and/or extra-constitutional actions we have taken in the name of fighting the terr’ists since September 11th. (Newsflash: Torture had nothing to do with capturing OBL.) If the death of Bin Laden doesn’t move us to this reconsideration, what then ever will?
Unfortunately (and of course), that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. Instead, Congress is laying the foundation for a wider war: “Contained in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 is a new authorization to use military force that would grant the executive branch the power to ‘address the continuing and evolving threat posed by these groups.’ In practice, that means the president could use military force against any suspected terrorist across the globe — indefinitely.“
Indefinite war? No thanks. There’s been an eerie touch of Emmanuel Goldstein in the way Bin Laden was used to justify all manner of extraconstitutional actions and civil liberties violations under Dubya — actions that have been ratified and continued under Obama. Now that the Bogeyman is dead, it’s time to stand down. It’s time to start acting like America again.
For a counterpoint, Juan Cole argues why the Left should back the current military action: “If we just don’t care if the people of Benghazi are subjected to murder and repression on a vast scale, we aren’t people of the Left. We should avoid making ‘foreign intervention’ an absolute taboo the way the Right makes abortion an absolute taboo if doing so makes us heartless (inflexible a priori positions often lead to heartlessness).“
And, to complete the trifecta, here’s the president explaining his reasoning for intervention: “Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.“
I get the arguments in favor of military action (and, in terms of diplomacy, I get that we also seem to be following the lead of France and England this time — After all, they’ve backed our sketchy plays in the past.) But, since we’re already well-engaged at this point, I’ll just say that (1) my own view of this Libya action leans toward Robinson’s, (2) the Congress-skipping precedent here is yet another extremely dubious call by our purported constitutional-scholar-in-chief, (3) I’m not seeing how getting involved in yet another war in the Middle East/North Africa, while rather obviously ignoring other festering situations in the region, wins Arab hearts and minds, and (4) it’s funny how 99.44% of the Deficit Peacocks in this town completely clam up when it’s time to rain down some million-dollar-a-head Freedom Bombs.
“‘There can be no conceivable justification for requiring a soldier to surrender all his clothing, remain naked in his cell for seven hours, and then stand at attention the subsequent morning,’ he wrote. ‘This treatment is even more degrading considering that Pfc. Manning is being monitored — both by direct observation and by video — at all times.‘”
Sometimes I don’t post here because I’m really busy. Sometimes I don’t post here because the news is too damned depressing: The United States takes another big step towards Miniluv by applying Dubya-era torture and intimidation techniques to an American citizen in custody for leaking, Bradley Manning. (Y’see, it’s a four lights = five lights kinda thing. Manning has to break — and then, like Zubadayah and KSM, voice untruths — for there to be any sort of possible criminal conspiracy case against Wikileaks.)
What is there to say, really? State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley already correctly stated that this abusive treatment of Manning was “ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid,” and, within days, he was fired for stating the obvious.
The president, meanwhile, assures us everything is ok because the Pentagon said so: “I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are.” This, as Glenn Greenwald (who’s been on top of this all the way) points out, is exactly the same rationale Dubya used to use: “‘When [Bush] asked ‘the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government’ to review interrogation methods, ‘they assured me they did not constitute torture.’” Well, ok then.
So let’s review. Dubya’s administration constructs an illegal and unconstitutional torture regime — Nobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. (Look forward, not backward!) The Dubya administration lies to the American people in order to prosecute a war of choice in Iraq. Nobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. Through greed and outright fraud, Wall Street traders implode the global economy to the tune of trillions of dollars, and, with the convenient exception of Bernie Madoff, nobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. (Synthetic junk, anyone?) Big banks continue their crime spree by engaging in a massive epidemic of foreclosure fraud, and nobody goes to jail (but we’ll make them promise not to do it again!)
Oh, and an Army private leaks “secret” documents (so secret they were available to millions of people) because “[h]e wanted people held accountable and wanted to see this didn’t happen again” — the very definition of whistleblowing — and now we’re treating him like Winston Smith. (Then again, our president does despise whistleblowers.)
Should Manning be in U.S. custody right now? Yes. He took an oath to the United States military and, knowing full well the consequences, broke it in an act of civil disobedience. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime — I get that. But should Manning be abused and tortured in U.S. custody? Of course not — Nobody should be. In fact, I thought we elected Barack Obama as president to make sure this never happened again.
Nope, sorry. Instead, President Obama fired Crowley and is owning what’s happening to Manning right now. He also just reinstated and normalized indefinite detentions at Gitmo. (Obama the constitutional scholar? Meet the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.) And when not perpetuating Dubya-era illegalities, he (and new lefty-bashing chief of staff) spend their days talking up the deficit, talking down regulation, and hoping the Chamber and the NRA take their meetings. Feel those winds of change, y’all. (Obama meme pic above via here.)
Update: “Based on 30 years of government experience, if you have to explain why a guy is standing naked in the middle of a jail cell, you have a policy in need of urgent review.” P.J. Crowley reflects on his recent firing. “I stand by what I said. The United States should set the global standard for treatment of its citizens – and then exceed it. It is what the world expects of us. It is what we should expect of ourselves.“
In the wake of Tunisia‘s “Jasmine Revolution,” and as seen all over the news the past week (once the Village moved past its who-sitting-with-who, SotU-prom obsessions), protests continue to roil Egypt — as well as Yemen, Jordan, and the Sudan — in what amounts to an historic popular uprising across the Middle East. Our response so far (Joe Biden notwithstanding): “Saying that ‘no one is satisfied‘ with the steps Mubarak has taken since the protests for political and economic freedom began, Clinton said a transition process was needed ‘so that no one fills a void..what we don’t want is chaos.‘”
As Slate‘s Kai Bid notes: Nor do we want to alienate the Egyptian people further by seeming to back a cruel and repressive government that has clearly lost the confidence of its people. “Obama still has the relatively clean slate and the rhetorical powers to execute a pivot in American policy. In his June 2009 Cairo speech Obama said, ‘America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments — provided they govern with respect for all their people.‘”
Hopefully, that worthy standard will encourage us to think twice before backing any play involving Egypt’s newly-appointed vice-president (and thus Mubarak’s suggested successor), former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman — a.k.a. the CIA’s point man for extraordinary renditions. “In a nutshell: this appointment will do nothing to pacify the millions of rioting citizens, and if it stands it will perpetuate the same kinds of policies and US power interests in the region to which the people have said enough.“
“When historians look back to the moment when the post-Cold War reign of American power ended, they may well settle on 2010 as a crucial year. Everywhere, it seemed, there were signs that the long-predicted “rise of the rest” had finally occurred, whether in the newfound assertiveness of fast-growing China or the impatient diplomacy of new powers like Brazil and Turkey. Foreign Policy’s second annual list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers fully reflects that new world.“
As above, Foreign Policy has picked its Top 100 Global Thinkers of the year. And, while there are some really atrocious choices on here (for example, the man at #33, who much more deservingly made the list in the next entry too), the article is worth a perusing regardless. (FWIW, #65, #68, and #80 seem really iffy to me as well.)
“No wonder President George W. Bush can now openly brag about the water-boarding policy he once denied even existed. The courts have become complicit in the great American cop-out on torture.” And let’s not forget the Obama administration in all this. Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick surveys the wreckage from the Supreme Court’s recent capitulation on the Maher Arar case, wherein we, the United States of America, abducted, deported, and were ultimately responsible for the torturing of an innocent man, and are now trying to sweep it under the rug like it never happened. Look forward, not backward! (unless you’re a whistleblower)
In very related news, borrowing the riff from this great cartoon, The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart finally drops the hammer on the Bushification of Obama on the civil liberties front. Like many progressives, I’m discontented for a lot of reasons with this administration at this moment, but Obama’s egregious record on this front still stands above them all. An end to imperial powers and civil liberties violations of the Dubya era should have been an absolutely non-negotiable aspect of “change we can believe in” — particularly coming from Obama “the constitutional scholar.” And a White House that will capitulate on these basic human rights will capitulate on anything. Which, when you get right down to it, they pretty much have.
“‘The CIA appears to have broken all accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War to protect prisoners from being the subjects of experimentation,’ said Frank Donaghue, the CEO of PHR, a nonprofit organization of health professionals.“
A new report by Physicians for Human Rights suggests the CIA conducted human experiments on detainees, including “monitoring the effects of sleep deprivation up to 180 hours” and testing out new forms of waterboarding on them. Once we’re all happy with the president’s visible anger levels toward BP, perhaps we can get some wrath-of-God fury — and criminal prosecutions — directed towards these atrocities committed in our name also? Thanks much. [Update: Here's the Mother Jones story.]
Gee, I wonder why (and as if we need another crisis right now.) All the facts aren’t in yet on what happened — in international waters — yesterday on the humanitarian-aid flotilla headed to Gaza. But, right now Slate‘s Fred Kaplan seems to be on the right track: “Israel’s storming of the Mavi Marmara, killing at least nine Free Gaza activists and wounding several more, was an act of jaw-gaping stupidity–strategically and tactically, even leaving aside morally.“
And morally, there are obvious problems too. As Peter Beinart — continuing his recent heterodoxy — explained today: “[T]he embargo must be tight enough to keep the people of Gaza miserable, but not so tight that they starve…There’s a name for all this: collective punishment.” Also of note: today’s J-Street response: “This shocking outcome of an effort to bring humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza is in part a consequence of the ongoing, counterproductive Israeli blockade of Gaza…We urge President Obama and other international and regional leaders to take today’s terrible news as an opportunity to engage even more forcefully in immediate efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.“
I agree, and I hope our immediate actions in the wake of this flotilla fiasco (I feel like I’m using that word a lot lately, and yet it continually applies) — watering down the UN resolution and working the phones for Israel — are being done with an eye to the long game of bringing peace to the region, not just the usual, reflexive circling of the wagons.
“The bottom line is this: Current procedures under the CSRT are such that a perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government’s case and has no way of proving his innocence. I would like somebody in this Chamber, somebody in this Government, to tell me why this is necessary.” Me too, Senator Obama, me too.
In a decisive break with his campaign stances and the best indicator yet that this administration is now happily perpetuating deeply troubling Bush-era policies, the President wins the right to hold detainees indefinitely in Bagram — the difference from the Boumediene decision on Gitmo being that Bagram is a “war zone.” (And Ben Franklin’s admonition aside, that’s an excuse you hear quite a bit these days.)
FWIW, Politico’s Josh Gerstein — while bending over backwards, as per the Village norm, not to call torture “torture” — suggests civil liberties concerns are overblown here, but check out his reasoning: “The Obama administration…has, so far, resisted seeking a full-scale preventive detention law that would apply to future captives. Instead, it has pleaded with civil liberties and human rights groups not to oppose some legal mechanism to allow the continued detention of Al Qaeda captives, at least some of whom may be untriable because of aggressive interrogations many view as torture.“
Oh, please. We have to hold them forever because we tortured them? How utterly and completely effed up is that? As Stephen Colbert well put it: “It’s essentially the same stance taken by George Bush. With one important difference: Obama makes the kids like it.”
“Things in that unhappy country are going badly — much worse, of course, than Team Obama had to pretend this week but quite a bit worse than even a sensible skeptic might think. And unless Karzai takes to heart the lectures he heard (someone must have given him a stern talking-to amid all the bonhomie), things are only going to get worse still.”
After perusing an unclassified DoD report released last month, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan sees ominous trends unfolding in Afghanistan. “[T]he full report is a hair-raiser. The news is almost all bad; and the few bits of good news turn out, on close inspection, to be extremely misleading…[T]he report states, ‘The insurgents perceive 2009 as their most successful year.’”
“If there were any doubts that Sarah Palin is a total idiot, she settled them with that single statement….Tip to Sarah Palin: Obama may have some vulnerabilities, and you may have some strengths, but command of the issues doesn’t fall in either category.” As the up traffic here in DC, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan beats back some of the dumber GOP attacks on Obama’s nuclear policy, while Joe Conason tries to explain what Ronald Reagan really thought about nukes.
Sigh…Pick any issue these days, and for far too many of the GOP opposition, the question seems to come down to whether they’re out-and-out venal or just incompetent. Sadly, the answer seems to be yes.
“Obama needed to regain control quickly, and he started by jettisoning liberal positions he had been prepared to accept — and had even okayed — just weeks earlier.” TIME’s Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf examine the recent ousting of Greg Craig, a slow death by leaking, as a telling indicator of how the Obama administration has fallen so far astray on civil liberties. “[Obama] quietly shifted responsibility for the legal framework for counterterrorism from Craig to political advisers overseen by [Rahm] Emanuel, who was more inclined to strike a balance between left and right.” Uh, what? As Nick Baumann points out in Mother Jones, what business do the politicos have in overseeing legal matters? That’s rather Rovian, isn’t it?
On target as usual, Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald puts this Craig story and the KSM trial into broader perspective: “As even Time now recognizes, many of the policies once widely declared by Democrats to be a grave threat to the Constitution are now explicitly adopted by the Obama administration. And it’s flatly inconsistent to invoke ‘the rule of law’ to defend Obama’s decision to give trials to a few Guantanamo detainees without pointing out that he’s violating that very same precept by denying trials to so many.” (Pic via the MJ article linked above.)
“Holder has fallen prey to the sort of magical legal thinking that seeps through the whole CIA report: the presumption that if there’s a legal memo, it must be legal…In other words, we are now protecting the good-faith torturers. That isn’t just wrong, it’s outrageous. It ratifies the most toxic aspect of the whole legal war on terror: that anything becomes permissible if it’s served up with a side of memo. Paper your misconduct with footnotes and justifications–even after the fact–and you can do as you please.“
Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick explains the fundamental problem with the Justice Department’s new inquiry into Dubya-era torture: “Pretending we are investigating and curtailing a torture program isn’t all that different from pretending we didn’t torture in the first place.“
Meanwhile — hold on to your hats, people — Slate‘s Tim Noah discovers that Dick Cheney hasn’t been entirely truthful about what’s in the theoretically exculpatory CIA memos. “Portions have been redacted, so perhaps the evidence Cheney claims that enhanced interrogation saved American lives has been blacked out. But judging from what’s visible to the naked eye, the documents do not provide anything like the vindication that Cheney claims.” (Of course, even if they did provide said vindication, the question of whether or not torture is effective — 24 notwithstanding, we’re pretty sure it isn’t — is a completely separate question from whether or not torture is legal — it isn’t.)
“Instead, constructivists would posit that the zombie problem is what we make of it. That is to say, there are a number of possible emergent norms in response to zombies. Sure, there’s the Hobbesian ‘kill or be killed’ end game that does seem to be quite popular in the movies. But there could be a Kantian “pluralistic anti-Zombie” community that bands together and breaks down nationalist divides in an effort to establish a world state.“
Following up on this recent mathematical modeling study confirming the dire global ramifications of a zombie outbreak (naturally, the talk-radio right remains unconvinced), Daniel Drezner ponders the responses of various IR schools to World War Z. “Now, some would dispute whether neoconservatism is a systemic argument, but let’s posit that it’s a coherent IR theory…clearly, neoconservatives would argue, zombies hate us for our freedom not to eat other humans’ brains.“
As many readers here well know, I’ve spent a good bit of time over the past decade studying US history. (In fact, over the past few years, I’ve occasionally helped my advisor keep a textbook up to date that recently drew the ire of right-wing blowhard Bill O’Reilly. Apparently, those damn pesky facts were somehow mitigating O’Reilly’s ability to spew forth the usual idiotic blather.)
Anyway, over that period of time, I believe I have in fact learned me a few things. So, as a public service of sorts, and because, after this morning’s revelations, I’ve reached the limit of craven and/or patently stupid falsehoods that I can feasibly ingest over so short a time, some “U.S. History for Dummies.” I expect most everyone who comes by this site with any frequency knows all this, but ya never know. Apologies for the didacticism in advance — if this were this a Coors Light commercial, this would be where i vent. (And thanks to Lia for the timely visual tax lesson, above.)
At any rate, as most people remember from high school, the original 1773 Tea Party was not a protest against high taxes or high prices at all. (In fact, legally imported tea — i.e. that of the East India Company, which was both suffering serious setbacks over in India and losing market share to smuggled Dutch tea at the time — was actually cheaper in the colonies after the Tea Act, since it was now exempt from the usual obligations.)
In small part a reaction of the East India’s commercial rivals to this sweetheart deal, the Boston Tea Party was mainly held to uphold the principle of No taxation without representation. Which I don’t think I need to explain. So, with the minor exception of DC-area conservatives who attended the tea gathering in Washington (without crossing over from Virginia or Maryland), the, uh, “teabaggers” don’t really have a leg to stand on here. This is particularly true after you consider that both ruthless gerrymandering and the vagaries of the Electoral College (I’m looking at you, Wyoming) actually tend to lead to over-representation of conservative Republicans in our halls of governance, even despite heavy losses for the “Grand Old Party” in 2006 and 2008.
Well, in fact, no state in the Union has any legal right to secede. (Not even Texas.) The existence of such a right was posited and debated quite often in the early years of the republic: by Jefferson and Madison in the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, by the members of the Hartford Convention, by South Carolina’s philosopher-politician John C. Calhoun, and countless others.
But the illegality of secession was eventually confirmed — in blood — when eleven states attempted to pull out of the Union in 1861, due mainly to differing opinions on the institution of slavery and its expansion into the western territories. As a result of this insurrection by the southern states, a violent conflict broke out, which we call the Civil War. It lasted four years, and it was kind of a big deal.
Prior to the war, the states of the Confederacy believed secession to be their natural right, while those remaining in the Union believed it to be tantamount to an act of treason. With the Union victory in that conflict, and the subsequent readmittance of southern states in such a manner that reaffirmed that no right of secession exists, the question was settled. So it remains to this day.
Another argument we’ve heard lately — today Sen. McCain made it with his usual comrades-in-arms, Sens. Lieberman and Graham, while trying to protect Dubya’s lawyers — is that the CIA officials who actually conducted these recent acts of torture should be exempt from prosecution, because they were following the legal dictates of those higher-up in the administration. (To follow the reasoning around the circle, the torturers should be exempt because they were listening to the lawyers, and the lawyers should be exempt because they didn’t do the actual torturing. Cute.)
Anyway, whatever you think of the merits of this argument, this is usually referred to as the Nuremberg defense, and it is in fact no defense at all. Argues Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles, devised by the Allies after WWII to determine what constituted a war crime: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” Insert “CIA interrogator” for person in that last sentence and you can pretty much see the problem.
America is not a Christian nation. This will be patently obvious to anyone who’s ever heard the phrase “separation of church and state.” Unlike, say, England, America does not have and has never had an official, established church. This is very much by design. For proof of this not-very-radical claim, see the very first clause of the very first amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
If that doesn’t do it for you, see George Washington’s famous 1790 letter to the Jewish residents of Newport, Rhode Island. “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.“
Or consider that Thomas Jefferson skipped his presidency on his tombstone to make room for his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: “Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” (We could also make mention of the Jefferson Bible, but let’s start slow.)
Is the reasoning here too circuitous for Rove, Gingrich, et al to follow? Ok, then, here’s the cheat sheet: the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, passed by a Congress of our Founders without declaim and signed into law by President John Adams. It begins: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” Did y’all catch it this time? Good, let’s move on.
After the picture was taken, conservatives went predictably livid, with Matt Drudge headlining the offending photograph with the usual red text, Dick Cheney deeming Obama “a weak president” on FOX News, and Gingrich arguing that it made Obama look “weak like Carter.” “We didn’t rush over, smile and greet Russian dictators,” said Newt, and he wasn’t the only potential 2012′er aghast at Obama’s behavior. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada called the president “irresponsible” and the consistently shameless Mitt Romney painted Obama a “timid advocate for freedom”.
Um, ok. Well, let’s see here…
I could go on. With regards to that last one — Reagan yukking it up with Mikhail Gorbachev, then of “the evil Empire” — it didn’t take long before (surprise) Newt was caught in a contradiction. Apparently, Gingrich had previously argued on his website that Ronald Reagan’s good humor with Gorby was a sign of strength, not weakness.
Speaking of which, as Lawrence O’Donnell noted on MSNBC the other day, saintly old Ronald Reagan didn’t just smile and shake hands with America’s enemies. His administration sold them weapons under the table. So, please, assorted puddin’-heads of the GOP talkocracy, spare me your warmed-over tripe about poor diplomacy and weak leadership. As with everything else above, I’ve swallowed enough of your swill over the past few weeks to last me a lifetime.
|“You asked me once,” said O’Brien, “what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.”
The door opened again. A guard came in, carrying something made of wire, a box or basket of some kind. He set it down on the further table. Because of the position in which O’Brien was standing, Winston could not see what the thing was.
“The worst thing in the world,” said O’Brien, “varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by implement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal…In your case,” said O’Brien, “the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.”
And, sometimes, here in our own Room 101, it’s insects. As breaking everywhere this afternoon, the President authorizes the release of four long-awaited CIA memos that detail the rationalizing and application of Bush-era torture policies. [No. 1 | No. 2, No. 3a/3b | 4a/4b.] And, as Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald notes, they seem to suggest that even the parties-that-be knew what they were doing constituted torture. (“Each year, in the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the United States condemns coercive interrogation techniques and other practices employed by other countries. Certain of the techniques the United States has condemned appear to bear resemblance to some of the CIA interrogation techniques…The State Department’s inclusion of nudity, water dousing, sleep deprivation, and food deprivation among the conduct it condemns is significant and provides some indication of an executive foreign relations tradition condemning the use of these techniques.“) But, they approved these already-condemned practices as legal anyway, with the caveat that they “cannot predict with confidence whether a court would agree with this conclusion.” Yeah, you think?
Well, let’s hope the courts get a chance to decide either way. While releasing these documents today, Pres. Obama and Attorney General Holder also made clear that the CIA interrogators involved will not be prosecuted for these acts. “‘It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,’ he said in a statement.” Um, I’m of the opinion that it would be unfair to get strung up in a, cough, “stress position” by a bunch of Cheney-authorized CIA yahoos and then see no legal recourse for it. (And, hey, “just following orders” — what a novel legal defense. Who were the ad wizards that came up with that one?)
On the other hand, as the WP points out: “Today’s carefully worded statement left open the possibility, however, that agents and higher-level officials who may have ventured beyond the strategies approved by Bush lawyers could face legal jeopardy for their actions.” That still closes too many legal doors, imho. The strategies approved by Bush lawyers are horrible — and illegal — enough. But, at least we can still hold out the minute possibility that the real, top-level architects of Dubya-era torture policy will face some sort of prosecution for their crimes, above and beyond their inevitable condemnation in the history books. (President Obama may argue that “[t]his is a time for reflection, not retribution,” but, the law is the law. And, as he should know, pardoning Nixon didn’t do Gerald Ford any favors.)
Either way, let’s be clear: These memos prove beyond a shadow of a doubt — as if there were any doubt left — that it was the stated and directed policy of the Dubya-era CIA to engage in acts they knew to be torture. That is unacceptable, completely antithetical to our ideals, and exceedingly worthy of a criminal investigation. If, in the name of national unity or CIA morale or whatever, the president wants to give a pass to the flunkies who actually held the victims down as they flailed, choked, or writhed in agony…well, that just means somebody else higher-up has to pay. Fine. But, if the rule of law means anything anymore, and I believe it does, the people responsible must be held to account.
“Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same.” Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? The Obama administration and Holder Justice Dept. uphold Dubya’s dubious use of a “state secrets” privilege to put the kibosh on a lawsuit put forward by five men “extraordinarily rendered” by the CIA.
See also a livid Glenn Greenwald for the details: “The entire claim of ‘state secrets’ in this case is based on two sworn Declarations from CIA Director Michael Hayden — one public and one filed secretly with the court. In them, Hayden argues that courts cannot adjudicate this case because to do so would be to disclose and thus degrade key CIA programs of rendition and interrogation — the very policies which Obama, in his first week in office, ordered shall no longer exist. How, then, could continuation of this case possibly jeopardize national security when the rendition and interrogation practices which gave rise to these lawsuits are the very ones that the U.S. Government, under the new administration, claims to have banned?“
Update: Sensing the likely blowback, one presumes, the Justice Dept. announces it’ll be reviewing Dubya’s “state secrets” claims in due course. “It’s vital that we protect information that if released could jeopardize national security, but the Justice Department will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government’s actions that they have a right to know.” So apparently, the ugly details of our now-defunct(?) extraordinary rendition policy aren’t among the actions we should have any clue about. Ugh…this one definitely goes in the Carcetti file.
“It is precisely our ideals which give us the strength and moral high ground to deal with the unthinking violence that we see emanating from terrorism organizations around the world…We are going to win this fight, we are going to win it on our terms.” As hinted soon after the election, it’s finally on its way out: One day after putting a hold on all Gitmo tribunals, the president orders the closing of the national embarrassment at Guantanamo within the year.
“[T]he orders [also] bring to an end a Central Intelligence Agency program that kept terrorism suspects in secret custody for months or years, a practice that has brought fierce criticism from foreign governments and human rights activists. They will also prohibit the C.I.A. from using coercive interrogation methods, requiring the agency to follow the same rules used by the military in interrogating terrorism suspects, government officials said.“
And there was much rejoicing! We can all breathe a little easier and stand a little taller now that America is actually starting to act like America again. (And, trust me, I won’t shed any tears over dropping the gulag and torture news category here at GitM.)
Btw, the “new sheriff in town” pic above is via The Big Picture’s very worthwhile inaugural collection, as seen at Webgoddess.