March 30, 2009

Still We Do Nothing

As recently as a few years ago, despite being far from perfect, the United States was more than arguably the best example on the face of the planet of a country that adhered to the rule of law. Tragically, that came to an end under President George W. Bush with - among other things - the use of torture as official policy in the "War on Terror," and America's standing has been further eroded by our failure to pursue justice against violators of both international and domestic law within the government. While he is no longer in office and never officially held a title other than "president," our passivity and cowardice in the face of lawlessness from our chief executive effectively crowned George W. Bush a king.

We are unquestionably better off with Barack Obama in the White House, but even as our new president produces a swarm of ambitious initiatives related to the economy, foreign policy, energy, infrastructure, education and health care, there has been no movement to investigate war crimes committed by the Bush Administration. To make matters worse, other countries are putting our inaction to shame.

Great Britain, for instance, has launched a criminal investigation to determine whether officers of its intelligence services were involved in the torture of a British resident detained by the United States. But while our allies seek to restore their international standing, President Obama has so far failed to live up to statements he made from the campaign trail that he would have the Justice Department "immediately review" these issues to see if they warrant investigation. Instead, the president now says he is more focused on "get[ting] it right moving forward."

Even when the contents of a report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were leaked, revealing the conclusion that American interrogation techniques used on suspected al-Qaeda members "constituted torture," the silence from the Obama Administration has remained deafening.

The pressure of events and information, however, continues to mount. On Saturday, a Spanish court took the initial steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework that justified the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay prison camp. One Spanish official noted that it was “highly probable” that the case would not only go forward, but lead to arrest warrants.

Lets be clear: this is not some crazy, liberal, paranoid fantasy about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. There is a host of credible evidence that the American government sanctioned and carried out torture on people in its custody. And there isn't even refuge in assertions that American torture policy was justified; a report on Sunday divulged that the CIA has affirmed that not a single terrorist plot was revealed or foiled as a result of some of its most brutal tactics.

Yet, still, we do nothing, and our new Attorney General - who has stated that "no one is above the law" - sits idle.

Even with all the challenges that we face as country, this still matters, and it matters greatly. The United States either rests on a foundation of laws or on one made up of the whims of the ruling class, and we are far too close to the latter right now for comfort. These are not small or insignificant allegations, or even ones that can be explained away as policy differences. If an investigation reveals that laws were not broken and human rights were not violated, no one will be happier than I, but that inquiry needs to take place.

As embarrassing as it is that our 43rd president and members of his staff might be war criminals, it is nowhere near as shameful as confirming through collective indifference our current status as a nation of hypocrites when it comes to equal justice before the law. If we are willing to let our president - and by extension, ourselves - become accessories to a crime after the fact, we deserve everything that will surely follow.


Over at the Washington Post's White House Watch, Dan Froomkin has a comprehensive look at the claims that have been made about information gained through torture versus the reality. Please check out Bush's Torture Rationale Debunked.


lokywoky said...

It is a very shameful thing. Polls show that the people in this country want an investigation. But we remain silent as the idiots in DC dither and wring their hands and do nothing.

It is up to us, the people, to demand this, and loudly. Otherwise, we are as complicit in the whole mess as is Bush/Cheney/et al.

I keep writing and calling my congresscritters, but everyone needs to do this. Now. Often. Loudly.

Thanks for keeping the issue front and center.

PS. Did you see Rachel on 4/3? Context of the two journalists being held in North Korea. People concerned about their welfare were told 'We're not Guantanamo'. We have no right to demand anything of anyone.

PBI said...


Didn't see Rachel, but I agree - we have surrendered the moral high ground pretty much unconditionally. It is amazing to me that there are still people who don't see that.