Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Appreciating the Foes of Torture

by Meteor Blades

I’ve been pondering about how very much I owe to a few people who in their fight against torture and government outlawry have combined an unwavering moral compass, keen analysis and sparkling eloquence. These people and a few organizations with the guts and stamina not to surrender deserve far more than mere thanks for their pursuit of truth, justice and what was once touted as the American way. But until that halcyon day when dissidents are awarded Medals of Freedom, simple gratitude will have to suffice.

They go by the names of Jane Mayer, Invictus/Valtin, Glenn Greenwald,
, Christy Hardin Smith, jhutson, digby, Scott Horton, Armando/Big Tent Democrat, Marcy Wheeler, the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Physicians for Human Rights.

They have all along been unwilling to submit to the Cheney-Bush administration’s violation of the most basic principles of human rights, civil rights and the Constitution. They have opposed the rendition, secret incarceration and torture of people deemed to have surrendered their rights by the mere fact of having been abducted or captured by the United States. They have rejected the twisted concept that torture which is scientifically evaluated, approved, ordered, implemented and euphemized by Americans or American surrogates isn’t the same as torture committed by ...the bad guys.

When those who were supposed to expose and fight against the outlaws and their deeds failed us through sloth or malice, we were fortunate these others rose to the task. Whether it was waterboarding, holding children and other innocents for years without trial, breaking signed treaties, violating professional ethics, suborning the media, or playing Orwellian semantic games, our beacons were there, exposing the war criminals on high and actively seeking to stop them.

Anyone unaware of the details of what these criminals were doing can get a good idea from reading SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY. It’s heavily redacted, which means it conceals even worse than we already know, but it’s worth the time. Watching Torturing Democracy tells much of the story, too. And then there are all the essays and reports, organizing and legal maneuvering of those I’ve named.

Many members of that fidgety amalgam of people who call ourselves progressives want to let bygones be bygones, want to forget the past and move on when Mister Bush moves on to the private sector where, presumably, he will return to his less damaging role as an arrogant grifter with a rich daddy. But the courageous few who have loudly and relentlessly opposed torture and the associated outlawry believe, as do I, that prosecutions are, for the long-term health of our nation, as important as repairing the economy. We move on, we forget, at our peril.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote on December 18:

It's almost as though everyone's nose is now being rubbed in all of this: now that the culpability of our highest government officials is no longer hidden, but is increasingly all out in the open, who can still defend the notion that they should remain immune from consequences for their patent lawbreaking? As Law Professor Jonathan Turley said several weeks ago on The Rachel Maddow Show: "It's the indictment of all of us if we walk away from a clear war crime." And this week, Turley pointed out to Keith Olbermann that "ultimately it will depend on citizens, and whether they will remain silent in the face of a crime that has been committed in plain view. ...It is equally immoral to stand silent in the face of a war crime and do nothing."

As the Physicians for Human Rights stated in Broken Law, Broken Lives

Almost all of the detainees reported being threatened with severe harm, most commonly through verbal threats during interrogations. Eight of the eleven men reported that the US military utilized dogs to instill fear in the detainees. Two of the Iraqi former detainees were
threatened with execution, and two others were threatened with forced disappearance since they did not have prisoner identification numbers, were unregistered, and therefore considered "ghost" detainees. Youssef recalled being threatened with being shot by a guard during an interrogation in Guantánamo.

As digby wrote in "Torture Nation" on April 13:

I would imagine that our torture regime is much more hygienic than the North Vietnamese. Surely it is more bureaucratic with lots of reports and directives and findings and "exit interrogations." We are, after all, a first-world torturer. But at the end of the day it's not much different.

And as Scott Horton has written:

No prior administration has been so systematically or so brazenly lawless. Yet it is no simple matter to prosecute a former president or his senior officers. There is no precedent for such a prosecution, and even if there was, the very breadth and audacity of the administration’s activities would make the process so complex as to defy systems of justice far less fragmented than our own. But that only means choices must be made. Indeed, in weighing the enormity of the administration’s transgressions against the realistic prospect of justice, it is possible to determine not only the crime that calls most clearly for prosecution but also the crime that is most likely to be successfully prosecuted. In both cases, that crime is torture.

No words can fully express the admiration and respect I have for each of these and the other foes of torture I have named. They have refused to be silent. They have been unwilling to shrug off these crimes and say that our country has more important matters to deal with. "Speaking only for myself" (as one of them famously says), I can never offer enough thanks for what they have done, for their moral clarity and persistence.

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If you’d like to thank them as well, one concrete way you can do so is by reinforcing their message: Join with bloggers at Docudharma and and sign the petition seeking a Special Prosecutor on war crimes.

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