Ducking America's Torture Disgrace
Editor’s Note: The release of four Justice Department memos detailing and justifying specific abusive interrogation techniques in George W. Bush’s “war on terror” adds further evidence to the obvious conclusion that torture and other crimes were committed.
But President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder accompanied the document release on Thursday with assurances that the CIA interrogators would not be prosecuted, and Obama went further, saying “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”
Former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman disagrees, noting that official crimes, when not addressed honestly, can eat away at a nation’s moral and legal foundations:
Some countries never acknowledge their crimes.
It has been 95 years since the Turkish genocide against its Armenian population, but the Turkish government will not confess to any role in crimes that were committed. The Japanese have never admitted the terrible crimes committed throughout Northeast and Southeast Asia during World War II.
And Israel has refused to acknowledge its numerous crimes against the Palestinians, most recently in Gaza, where Israeli soldiers committed grave violations of international law by deliberately attacking civilian targets and failing to protect the civilian population.
We know that the United States has committed crimes that violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution against "cruel and unusual punishments;" the War Crimes Act of 1996; the Convention Against Torture of 1984 (the United States is a signatory); and of course Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions.
President Obama's handling of the war crimes of the United States in facilities in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Iraq, and Afghanistan is particularly troubling because his administration has admitted that crimes were committed. He has condemned torture and abuse, closed CIA secret prisons, and ordered the closing of Guantanamo within the year.
Attorney General Eric Holder stated bluntly in his confirmation hearings that "waterboarding is torture." CIA Director Leon Panetta has done the same, and the CIA has conducted no extraordinary renditions since Panetta replaced General Michael Hayden as CIA director.
Extraordinary renditions amount to enforced disappearance, which is also a violation of international law. Panetta also has announced that the CIA will no longer use contractors to conduct interrogations and has proposed a plan to decommission the remaining black sites.
We have paid a terrible price for these crimes according to General officers who have served in Iraq; they believe that U.S. use of torture and abuse is the major incentive in the recruitment of Arab fighters to Iraq in order to conduct their own acts of terror, including suicide bombings.
But the President has stated that the United States "must look forward, and not backward," and CIA Director Panetta has proclaimed that CIA officers who conducted torture and abuse in CIA secret prisons "should not be investigated, let alone punished."
The deputy director of the National Security Agency and a former CIA senior officer, John Brennan, lobbied aggressively at the Justice Department and the CIA against any release of documents that deal with CIA's interrogation program and its policy of extraordinary renditions.
Brennan was President Obama's first choice to be CIA director, until the appearance of numerous articles that traced Brennan's role as a cheerleader for "enhanced interrogation techniques" and extraordinary renditions.
Finally, CIA has taken no action against CIA officers responsible for the willful destruction of nearly 100 tapes of torture and abuse against terrorist suspects, and Panetta has retained as his deputy director, Stephen Kappes, who was the ideological driver for the worst of CIA's techniques and programs.
The CIA's crimes are no secret, having been fully documented by Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books, Jane Mayer and Sy Hersh in The New Yorker, and Dana Priest and Barton Gellman in the Washington Post. We learned about CIA's "black sites" in 2002; the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib in 2004; and FBI protests against CIA torture and abuse in 2006.
We know that President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet endorsed and encouraged these measures.
Numerous reports, including the Taguba Report in 2004, the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the forthcoming report of the Senate Armed Forces Committee have fully documented the crimes.
The recent Spanish preparation of a case against six lawyers with the Bush administration, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, will lead to more revelations as will the inquiries taking place in Britain and Poland.
The stature of international law is diminished when a nation violates it with impunity. The stature of a nation is diminished when it commits crimes against humanity. And the national leadership is diminished when it ignores the need for accountability and explicit repudiation.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, has called for a "truth commission" to gather information on U.S. detention and interrogation programs.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Christopher Bond, R-Missouri, have endorsed a similar investigation of CIA programs as well as an "evaluation of intelligence information gained through the use of enhanced and standard interrogation techniques."
This would represent a good start, but only President Obama can restore our moral compass on the crimes of the post-9/11 era. The judgment of history will be harsh if he chooses not to do so.
Melvin A. Goodman, a regular contributor to The Public Record where this essay first appeared, is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He spent more than 42 years in the U.S. Army, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense. His most recent book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.
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