On Native Ground
TAKING A STAND AGAINST TORTURE
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
April 23, 2009
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It's good news for the Constitution and the rule of law that President Obama ordered the release of the Bush Administration memos that justified the use of torture and that he has not ruled out prosecuting officials who devised the policies that allowed torture to happen.
Former President George W. Bush and other members of his Administration came up with the legal justifications after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. They classified suspects as "enemy combatants" and stripped them of the protections of the Geneva Conventions so that they could be interrogated, and then set up for torture.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney is the supposed mastermind of this policy. He long maintained that torture works and that it has prevented terrorist attacks from occurring since 2001. He wants the Obama Administration to release documents that show how successful it was.
President Obama should call Cheney's bluff. For example, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted master planner of the 9/11 attacks, was waterboarded by the CIA 183 times. Another terrorist suspect, Abu Zubaydah, who claimed that Iraq and al-Qaida had an operational relationship, was waterboarded 83 times. But people knowledgeable about the two men's interrogations have said that what little useful information they provided came during non-coercive interrogations.
Every established standard of international law considers waterboarding and some of the other things that the CIA calls "enhanced interrogation techniques" to be torture. Put more simply, if an American prisoner of war was subjected to the treatment that terrorism suspects received under the Bush Administration's policies, the outcry would be deafening.
That's why we need an honest, bipartisan investigation of the serious, documented abuses to the Constitution and the rule of law by the Bush Administration.
Why? As constitutional law expert Glenn Greenwald wrote a few weeks ago, "Over the last eight years, we had a system in place where we pretended that our 'laws' were the things enacted out in the open by our Congress and that were set forth by the Constitution. The reality, though, was that our government secretly vested itself with the power to ignore those public laws, to declare them invalid, and instead, create a whole regimen of secret laws that vested tyrannical, monarchical power in the president. Nobody knew what those secret laws were because even Congress, despite a few lame and meek requests, was denied access to them. What kind of country lives under secret laws?"
Most Americans no longer buy the conservative argument that civil liberties and the Constitution must take a back seat to protecting the nation. Sadly, too few prominent politicians support the idea of criminal investigations against Bush Administration officials.
But once again, most Americans are way ahead of their leaders when it comes to upholding the rule of law and Constitutional values. That's a big reason why the Republican Party failed, in the 2006 and 2008 elections, to convince most voters that Democrats are soft on terrorism because they would put an end to torture, illegal spying and secret detentions.
This, of course, won't stop the Republicans from continuing their "Democrats want Americans to be slaughtered by terrorists" rap for the foreseeable future. They haven't quite figured out that most of us are more afraid of losing our jobs or not being able to pay the rent than we are afraid of a hypothetical terrorist attack.
What President Barack Obama is doing is taking an important first step toward showing the world that, as he put it in his Inaugural Address, "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake."
This is not about political revenge, as many conservatives are saying. It is about restoring the honor of our nation in the eyes of the world. It is about restoring the rule of law. It is about accountability and doing what is right. This nation deserves the truth, and a proper investigation of torture policies under the Bush Administration will bring it to us.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com. For extra added thrills, read his ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics.