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April 27, 2009 | by  | in Online Only |
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If I don’t see you, you don’t exist: America the torturous

I came across an article this week entitled “Obama Stands Nuremberg on Its Head,” by Mike Farrell, a contributor for the progressive web magazine Truthdig. His opening paragraph:

“President Obama’s decision to spare CIA torturers from prosecution stands the Nuremberg principles on their head. ‘Good Germans who were only following orders’ are not exempt from the bar of justice. Individuals must be held responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Last week, United States President Barak Obama released four memos outlining the interrogation techniques authorised by the Bush Administration. Techniques included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, slapping, and covering a prisoner’s body in insects, Fear Factor style.

Just for some background information, waterboarding was among the torture methods used by the Japanese against American prisoners of war in World War II. I know people whose grandfathers were awoken in the night from nightmares of when they were prisoners of Japan.

Although President Obama has put a stop to the practices outlined in these memos, he said that he would not be prosecuting CIA agents who did the torturing. At Nuremberg, making sure that the Holocaust trains ran on time was found to be a crime. How flimsy the rule of law seems these days.

In his essay Education after Auschwitz, German philosopher and social critic Theodor Adorno posited that the fundamental conditions that allowed for the Holocaust to happen have remained “largely unchanged.” He warned that unless we examine the moral assumptions embedded in our society—whether it concerns our system of government, our economic ideology, our educational institutions, or other societal driving forces—we risk the danger of recommitting such atrocities. Whether or not I fully agree with his philosophy or methodology, I’ve yet to decide. But I cannot deny that the events of the past week have given his words a chilling significance.

The more important issue bouncing around Washington now becomes what to do with the authors of these memos and those who authorised them: Bush’s Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales; John Yoo and Jay Bybee, from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Council; and Donald Rumsfeld, just to name a few.

President Obama has made it clear that America needs to look forward and not backward. However, by ignoring these crimes he sets a precedent—rather, he maintains the current precedent—that says that lawbreaking is excusable when the perpetrators are the elite. I’m reminded of Nixon’s “When the President does it, it means that it is not illegal” interview with David Frost.

But there have been prosecutions in the past.

Remember Abu Ghraib. Four low-ranking reservists went to Leavenworth Military Prison. Now we find out, years later, that the White House actually ordered the torture. They blamed our soldiers. They said it was just a few bad eggs. They made us hate that girl, Lynndie England. She was pregnant in Leavenworth and we hated her.

Soldiers went to jail for torturing individuals but CIA interrogators will not go? More importantly, what about the people who set up the entire secret torture program? Why the selective justice?

I fear that the reason Obama does not want to hold these people accountable is because responsibility flows upwards. If we hold that the act of torture is criminal—and we would—then we acknowledge that torture is a crime punishable by law. If we hold the subordinates responsible we implicate their superiors.

Lynndie England followed orders from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, written by Yoo and Bybee at the Justice Department, working under the direction of Vice President Dick Cheney, who answers to George W. Bush, then-President of the Unites States.

I see no justifiable reason why President Obama would want to keep these crimes under rug swept. Accountability isn’t about political grudges or partisan politics; it’s about upholding the rule of law. These acts were criminal and criminal changes need to be filed if we are ever again to call ourselves a nation of laws and not a nation of (powerful) men. I fear that the change I voted for was more rhetorical than anything.

There is some hope though. Once again, my old congressional heroes are bringing up all the right points. Representative John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee said:

“If our leaders are found to have violated the strict laws against torture, either by ordering these techniques without proper authority, or by knowingly crafting legal fictions to justify torture, they should be criminally prosecuted.”

Conyers was among the first to make the case for the impeachment of George W. Bush in 2006, though he had changed his position due to political pressure, no doubt related to our dangerously flawed campaign finance laws, though that’s only my speculation.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont has been calling for a “Truth Commission” into the crimes of the Bush administration. If he’s unable to muster enough bipartisan support, he has promised to investigate the matter through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which defies President Obama’s statement on Tuesday for investigations to be bipartisan.

Even Nancy Pelosi has called for more investigation and was quoted saying, “I myself do not believe that immunity should be granted to everyone in a blanket way.”

As reassuring as this should be, I have learned in the past eight years how little power Congress actually holds over the President when their interests do not align. If Obama does not investigate the crimes committed by our government during the Bush years, in light of such irrefutable evidence and such public outcry, then he is passively condoning it. The outcomes surrounding these issues will set the course for the future of the United States.

If these deeds go unpunished, it will become clear to Americans that we are no longer a nation of laws. Our government, without question, will be exposed as nothing more than a shill for well-moneyed, special interests. The question then becomes, how long will the rest of the world keep pretending that American is a democracy? How much longer will Americans keep pretending themselves?

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About the Author ()

Andrew Mendes is an American studying International Relations and Public Policy at Victoria. He enjoys following politics and reading lots of news.

Comments (5)

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  1. Matt says:

    “Under rug swept” – brilliant. Of the Decembrist’s lyrics reminiscent. Pot. Kettle. Black. Pretty good post though. Have their been any serious attempts at moral justification by the Obama government, or the US media?

  2. Andrew Mendes says:

    Our media has framed this issue in a way that centers the debate around its effectiveness. This hijack means that people are being forced to argue that torture is an ineffective way of gaining information. The fact that it’s illegal—in other words, a crime punishable under law—has been largely ignored by the mainstream media. Obama may buckle under Congressional pressures but from were I’m sitting, that seems less likely than the current plan of action, being “just move one.”

  3. Rory MacKinnon says:

    Sorry to copy/paste this, but I feel my comment is just as applicable here.

    I’m sorry to say this will be quashed almost immediately. Dennis Kucinich already introduced three resolutions between 2007 and 2008 calling for Bush and Cheney’s impeachment, all of which were referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary and basically consigned to the dustbin of history. When finally asked to clarify the party’s position in the run-up to the presidential election, Speaker of the House and Democrat Nancy Pelosi said on behalf of the party that impeachment charges were explicitly “off the table”, most likely because the Democrats were building the Obama campaign on a message of unity and reconciliation.

    These are still key elements of Obama’s policy and rhetoric, and any proposal to stage a Nuremberg-style inquisition will be stymied by both parties quicker than you can say “stop it, stop, for the love of god, I’ll tell you everything”.

  4. You’re preaching to the choir, amigo. I’m was hoping for more public outrage but, to quote Naomi Klein’s “No Logo,” Americans have become activists in the politics of image, not action. Jon Stewart talks about it on his show, people cheer, and the issue is quickly forgotten.

    It’s simulacrum; the semblance of protesting has replaced the actual protesting itself. The same can be said for change. Soon, the same will be said about democracy, if it can’t be said already, at least in an American context.

    It was easier to lay the blame at the feet of the Republican majority, which—given where we are and how we got there—is still more that justifiable. But as I’ve said before, these problem—the big ones, the ones destroying our democracy and threatening the freedom of people of all nations, no just Americas—run deeper than party politics, They are well moneyed and deeply entrenched.

    I don’t know, and haven’t know for awhile, whether or not I can call myself a Democrat any longer, which means, in our two party system, that I’ve no voice in our government. But there are a few Democrats—Kucinich (who I voted for in the primaries), Wexler, Conyers—who have been right all along and are still fighting for the survival of our republic and our Constitution.

    This is were my Hope™ lies. These are the men history will remember; they will be the real agents of Change™, should change ever come again.

  5. Sebastian Henderson says:

    It has just been revealed over the past week that now Madam Speaker Nancy Pelosi was briefed in full about CIA interrogation tactics during 2002 when she was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and did little in protest. The Senate select committee on intelligence are similarly implicated in their silence. The Senate Judicary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts will be holding hearings this Wednesday (D.C. time) on the question of torture and the interaction between the White House and the Office of Legal Counsel.

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