Monday, December 15, 2008

Disproportionate force

While I was performing my own news dump last Friday, the government was up to some of its own, releasing a bipartisan report on detainee abuses and torture policies at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. And boy howdy, it sure doesn't pull any punches. Researched and compiled by the Senate Armed Forces Committee (including John McCain) and released without a single dissent, the report makes clear that "top officials" in the Bush White House were responsible for the reprehensible techniques used on prisoners in U.S. custody abroad.
"Senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees," said the report's 19-page unclassified executive summary. "Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority."


The Senate report traces the abuses to a Feb. 7, 2002, Bush memo that declared that international law on the treatment of war prisoners embodied in the 1949 Geneva Convention didn't apply to al Qaida or to the Taliban. (emphasis mine)
The report goes on to name Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers (the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) - but this indication that the torture policies originated in a memo signed by President Bush himself is really the icing on this shit cake.

Some may call the report too little, too late, but I'm firmly of the opinion that so long as justice is done, it's never too late. What remains, now, is seeing that justice is done, which means holding the incoming Obama administration and justice officials accountable for making that happen. We've got the research, the evidence, and the official report that states, in no uncertain terms, that officials right up to the president were responsible for a massive breach of trust and violation of international laws. They must be held responsible and punished accordingly. Whether that means jail time or a lifetime of community service is up to judges, but something should be done.

Not only were their actions and policies morally reprehensible, but so too were the effects that such policies had on the United States' reputation abroad. I was glad to see that the report addressed this very problem: "Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority."

Much of what the report has to say is what many people have suspected all along, but it's good to see it laid out in a solid, official medium. Now it's time to follow up. One of the many methods we need to employ to regain our stature and respect in the international community is to show a willingness to bring the bad actors in our ranks to justice. Instead of shrugging our shoulders and letting it all be bygones, we need to demonstrate our understanding of just how heinous these actions were, and that we are working to make sure it never happens again.

It should have been easily avoidable. The torture and harsh interrogation methods condemned in the report were "based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to elicit false confessions from captured American prisoners and adapted for use against U.S. detainees." How is it that that didn't raise any red flags (no pun intended)?

Andrew Sullivan has several good posts about this topic, in which he also questions those people who defended the techniques and charts the "intellectual collapse" of the American conservative movement as it related to that defense. He goes on to say:
When conservatism abandoned core values of American decency in favor of pure force, exemplified by torture techniques designed by Communists and Nazis, then it ceased to be conservative in the sense that Burke or Hayek or Oakeshott or Kirk would begin to understand. And watching the intellectual dishonesty of the right on this issue in the last few years has been a watershed for me. It has been, in my judgment, one long, awful surrender of truth to power.
And that's the crux of it: one long, awful surrender of truth to power. Something we, as Americans, were supposed to have long ago learned to be ever vigilant about preventing. Yet here we are. Fear and power prove themselves potent forces, once again.

This issue will likely (unfortunately) pop up time and time again, but I strongly suspect that a good way to prepare ourselves and deal with it more effectively in the future is to actually hold those responsible accountable, really accountable, instead of allowing their abuses to recede into the history books.

We also need to be better about demanding more immediate answers and explanations from our elected officials as these things happen, so that they're not allowed to go on as long as these policies did. We must not take their clever, 15-second soundbites at face value, but instead dig deeper until we get to the core of things. We must find a balance between expecting the best from our politicians and officers, and remaining rightfully skeptical of the official accounting of events.

Then maybe we stand a chance of attaining some real measure of equality and justice in this country, even if it is 232+ years better late than never.

EDIT TO ADD: Reliably so, Wisco over at the Griper Blade has an interesting take on the report. He's a little more cynical than me, but I can't says as I blames him.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

But how on earth are we going to hold those responsible accountable when there doesn't seem to be the political will to do it?

What a relief to hear someone else demanding accountability. Sometimes I feel like I'm shouting in an empty room. The silence is deafening.

This ( was my response to Cheney's baldfaced admission to authorizing torture on ABC on Monday night. Sickening....

The Lost Albatross