Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It's Not Just Looking Backward

President Obama has made it clear from the start of his administration that he didn't want his first term cluttered up with "looking backward" because there was so much to be done domestically: dealing with the failed economy and reforming health care were at the top of his list. For that reason, investigations into the criminal behavior of the past administration were effectively taken off the table, much to the fury of those of us on the left who recognized that the rape of constitutional and international law that took place the last eight years happened because Gerald Ford took the same approach.

It's beginning to look, however, as if President Obama isn't going to be able to avoid that "looking backward" because the perfect storm has begun developing over the past week which might very well make that impossible. The NY Times has a pretty good article summarizing the storm elements to date.

One of those elements has to do with investigating the US use of torture:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is also close to assigning a prosecutor to look into whether prisoners in the campaign against terrorism were tortured, officials disclosed on Saturday.

I found myself laughing bitterly at that line from the article. Whether? If? For crying out loud, even the torturers and those who authorized the torturers have admitted that they used and authorized techniques banned by the Geneva Conventions. The former Vice President of the United States bragged about the torture on television several times. Hello?

Why is Barack Obama, the self-proclaimed harbinger of change, even flinching at such an investigation? Well, for a very good reason. And for that reason, I have to shift gears a little.

I don't often refer to articles written in the mainstream press that are inaccessible (for free) on line, but this time I am going to. If you don't have a subscription to Harpers, then you need to either go down to the local news stand and buy the July, 2009 edition or go to your closest library and pull it from the stacks. Go to Luke Mitchell's essay entitled "We Still Torture." You'll find it on pages 49-55. Then brace yourself.

Mr. Mitchell starts off by noting the assumption that once George W. Bush left the White House all the torture stopped. That turns out to be an erroneous assumption.

We cannot be patient, though, and not simply because justice must be swift. We cannot be patient because not only have we failed to punish the people who created and maintained our torture regime; we have failed to dismantle that regime and, in many cases, even to cease torturing.

This last charge is the least heard. Although it is true that waterboarding is once again proscribed, it is equally true that the government continues to permit a series of "torture lite" techniques -- prolonged isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, force feeding -- that even Reagan appointee Judge Susan Crawford had to acknowledge amounted to torture when she threw out the government's case against one accused terrorist. Like waterboarding, these techniques cause extreme mental anguish and permanent physical damage, and, like waterboarding, they are not permitted under international law. But unlike waterboarding, they remain on the books, in detailed prison regulations and field-manual directives, unremarked by anyone except a few activists.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Mitchell goes into graphic detail of some of the techniques still being used at Guantanamo Bay, such as force feeding, and his descriptions match those we have seen from those "activists" such as Candace Gorman, a lawyer who represents two men being held at Guantanamo Bay, at her blog. I urge you to read the article to get the full impact of just what is being done in our names.

And yet President Obama is "uncomfortable" about investigating and ending the torture? How can that be? Doesn't he know what that is doing to us as a nation and what that will do to his presidency? Doesn't he recognize that just as Afghanistan will become "his" war, torture will be "his" sin?

Luke Mitchell's concluding paragraph answers that question but his answer also implies the responsibility that we, as citizens in a democracy, also have in this issue:

Now we have a choice. We can continue our experiment with torture or we can harness the obvious horror the last eight years to rectify the more discreet horrors of the distant past and the darkening present, and in so doing at last become a nation whose actions embody its pretensions.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

There can be no good reason for continuing these things. None. I wish I were surprised; the opportunist in him is what I feared.

7:15 PM  

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