Thursday, June 15, 2006
While I never discuss classified information received during my years in government, as someone with more than twenty years of intelligence and security experience as a Sam Nunn-John Glenn-Bob Kerrey Democrat I have never seen anything even remotely similar to what has been done in the name of our country at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, probably Haditha, possibly in other cases.
The sick truth is, in Iraq and elsewhere, our country is in a battle of ideas with an enemy that commits mass murder against the innocent and there is a real danger, based on recent polling, that President Bush is in danger of losing this battle of ideas and creating a whole new generation of terrorists.
This is incredible, amazing, and unbelievable and future historians will look back on these days, as many around the world do today, with horror that our President and our Congress allowed this travesty against our tradition and good name to continue to this day.
Here is a solution I have offered privately and obviously unsuccessfully, to a number of high officials in both parties. We should demand a full powered independent commission led by a jurist of internationally recognized integrity and honor, such as Sandra Day O'Connor, and composed of respected figures from all points of view at the stage in their career where they will do what is right.
The kind of people who might serve on this commission could include Howard Baker, Nancy Kassebaum, Bob Kerrey, John Glenn, George Mitchell, Alan Simpson, Cardinal Keeler, Elie Wiesl, or others of eminent stature This commission should have complete confidential access to all classified information relevant to potential abuses; they should issue direct advice to the President and Congress and include a public non-classified report, and have the authority to present their finding to any court of law they deem appropriate.
We have become a nation of secret courts, secret trials, secret defendants, secret evidence and a whole tier of fundamental policies to guard our security that compromise a virtual secret government in key regards which is an open invitation to abuse, with horrifying damage to our national honor, tradition and moral crediblity throughout the world.
We have had an executive branch that claims unilateral power to violate the constitution, our bill of rights and our laws of the land; they claim the power to do this in secret; and then they seek to prosecute, intimidate or bully those who believe that in America we are a nation of laws, with ultimate power residing in an informed citizenry.
There have been efforts to ignore and bypass courts and Congress; and both parties in the Congress, including far too many Democrats, have been derelict in their obligation for oversight. As many checks and balances have been unilaterally surrendered as taken away, and taken together, the abuses that have become far too common are in fact inevitable results of secret government that openly dishonors the very notion of the rule of law.
Having dealt with sensitive intelligence information I am well aware and accept that there must be some limits to public disclosure. For this reason I propose a fairly small number of nationally and globally respected figures who have a history of being trusted with confidential information, and the honor and integrity to fight in appropriate ways for simple justice and the rule of law.
I have written and said this many times, the single most despicable and unacceptable statement I have ever heard in my lifetime of public life, was when Alberto Gonzales described the Geneva Convention as some sort of quaint relic. Geneva was put in place to protect not only our values, but our troops who in my experience, from the Joint Chiefs to the newest enlisted men and women, support Geneva and the values and ideas behind Geneva in overwhelming and almost universal numbers.
It is staggering, that our country has a Vice President who is in fact, the leading lobbyist for torture, of any public figure, who has ever served in a comparable position, in any major democratic nation. It is Orwellian how those who defend this, are usually the same people who mocked and scorned President Clinton for defining what is, is, while they triangulate and evade the hard truth, of what torture, is.
Donald Rumsfeld, in one of his famous memos, once asked, correctly, whether the policy is creating more terrorists than it kills. The blunt and hard truth is, it almost certainly is, and at the least, the continuing toleration of torture and abuse by any name is doing extreme damage to the safety of our troops, is creating new generations of terrorists, and does grave damage to the very policies the President asserts are the most important to our nation.
America does not do torture; we do not do war crimes; we do not cover them up; we do not hide them; we do not redefine them; we do not excuse, tolerate, triangulate or condone acts that are contrary to our national heritage, that destroy our honor and reputation in what Jefferson called the decent opinion of mankind, that create more danger for our troops today, and threaten our communities tomorrow, which may someday be attacked by new terrorists recruited by enemies who exploit the outrage generated by this conduct.
At this point, rather than trust a president or Congress that have allowed this infamy to damage our country for so long, it is time for a highest level, maximum credibility, fully independent commission to put a stop to this, now and forever, once and for all, and send a message to our people and the world that will restore our unquestioned moral leadership, at a time when it is more urgently needed than ever.