Wednesday, February 18, 2009

There Is No Try, Only Do

That President Obama has announced approval for a 17,000 troop increase for Afghanistan was not particularly surprising. He had maintained throughout his campaign that while he thought the war in Iraq was stupid and unnecessary and he would withdraw forces as quickly as prudently possible, the war in Afghanistan was one one that must be fought if the US was to be free from future terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda. The war in Afghanistan, as I have previously stated, is now "his" war. He has adopted it. I may think his decision is wrongheaded and will lead to unnecessary death and suffering for both the US and Afghanistan, but at least I was warned.

That is not the case, however, when it comes to torture, renditions, and military commission "trials." Those he repudiated throughout the campaign and even after. Now that he is president, however, he appears to be backpedaling, and I am deeply troubled by that. If this editorial from Saturday's Los Angeles Times is any indication, I am not alone in that feeling.

It was widely assumed that under Obama, extraordinary renditions would be out of bounds. Yet an administration official told The Times' Greg Miller that if rendition is done "within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice." At his confirmation hearings, Panetta promised that rendition to CIA prisons "will not take place because black sites will no longer exist." But Obama's order permits the agency to maintain "facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis." This language must not become a loophole for abusive interrogations. As for renditions to foreign countries, Panetta said the administration will seek assurances that detainees "will not be treated inhumanely." But the Bush administration said it asked for the same assurances, apparently to little effect.

Under Obama's order, the CIA is now abiding by the Army Field Manual, which rules out interrogation tactics such as sexual humiliation, mock executions, the use of attack dogs and the withholding of food and medical care. But Obama also has convened a task force to determine whether requiring agencies outside the military to follow the manual is appropriate to "protect the nation." That raises the possibility of a retreat from a single standard of interrogation. ...

Finally, Obama rightly has suspended trials by military commissions at Guantanamo, pending a study of whether detainees accused of war crimes should be tried by civilian courts or by a revised commission system. Civilian courts have proved that they can effectively handle terrorism prosecutions, while even a retooled commission system would lack credibility. Affording due process to detainees accused of committing crimes in the past can be accomplished without releasing those considered to be dangerous in the future -- an option reserved by the Obama administration. But even "high-value" terrorists are entitled to have their status determined by a thorough, adversary process.

The continued use of euphemisms aside, all three processes are illegal in civilized countries which rely on the rule of law to promote justice. Enhanced interrogations are torture. Extraordinary renditions are kidnappings. Military commission trials are show trials without even the minimum of due process. We can no longer stand by and allow their continuance, not even by a well-intentioned man who promised us change. We must demand that President Obama stop irrevocably these crimes against humanity.

If we don't insist on this by a massive campaign at the congressional and White House level, then we will continue to be complicit in this horror. It's time to stop it, all of it.

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