Saturday, November 07, 2009

Sometimes A Great Nation

I was gobsmacked by an editorial in yesterday's Los Angeles Times. The "center left" board actually got it right, all of it.

The subject of the editorial was the trial and conviction of 23 CIA agents for illegally kidnapping and torturing Muslim cleric Hassan Osama Nasr.

"Extrajudicial detentions" and "extraordinary renditions" were nicely scrubbed terms for the Bush administration's policy of capturing suspects in one country and spiriting them away to another, where they were harshly interrogated and even tortured. Now an Italian court has called this CIA practice by its real name -- illegal."

Noting that the judicial decision is largely symbolic (the defendants were tried in absentia and no request for extradition has been filed), the editorial makes it clear that the symbolism is powerful, something the US government would be well-advised not to shrug off as meaningless.

...Yet the decision matters. It repudiates President Obama's expressed desire to look away from the ugly past, and sends a strong message that the U.S. government cannot operate outside the law with impunity in the name of fighting terrorism. ...

Obama has since ended CIA interrogations in secret prisons and shut overseas jails used by the CIA, but he has not stopped the practice of extraordinary rendition. The difference between his and his predecessor's policy is that the administration will now demand credible assurances that prisoners won't be tortured, and that prisoners will be "rendered to justice" rather than held indefinitely without trial.

We don't like renditions and generally think even the most dangerous criminals are entitled to due process, including extradition hearings. A war against violent extremists cannot be won by immoral or illegal means; the U.S. can't outsource dirty work and claim to have clean hands.
[Emphasis added]

Well said.

The current administration cannot and should not walk away from this finding by the Italian court. Nor should it assume that the decision doesn't matter. It does, if only by reminding the White House that the rule of law is a meaningless concept unless it is actually put into effect. Americans are notorious for their short memories, and unless the government puts the same effort into investigating and trying those who deliberately broke domestic and international law as it does into investigating and trying those who would wreak terror on the nation, the whole eight years of the Bush administration's malfeasance will be forgotten. The perpetrators who walk freely away from the mess will return, and their subversive ideas will be re-implemented.

If President Obama really wants to heal the divisions in this country, then let that healing begin by tracking down (or up, as the case is here) all of the law breakers and those who not only enabled the crimes but authorized them, and punishing them according to law. Putting a bandaid over an infected wound before cleaning it out is not only useless, it is dangerous.

The Justice Department (the home of many of the perpetrators in the last administration) should be instructed to investigate all of the crimes related to the kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, and torture of people by American authorities. If the investigation leads directly to the Bush White House, then so be it.

The call is not for vengeance, but for justice. The nation and the rest of the world deserve no less.

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