It is Friday again, and you know what that means: assigned reading and listening for the weekend ahead. If I don’t take responsibility for your enlightenment, who will?
This issue of torture is riveting because how we treat our enemies is, in a nutshell, the measure of who we are:
This torture dilemma is wrapped up in the dual questions of transparency/accountability and the possibility of prosecution, is in the forefront of the news and we all need to educate ourselves on the merits of taking steps to expose and possibly punish those responsible. One thing is for certain: Americans do not like any circumstance that is long, drawn-out and emotionally taxing and draining. We are an impatient people, whether the specific issue at hand is a war, a recession or a scandal. Furthermore, Americans, when faced with an obstacle, want to take immediate steps to remedy the situation. Whether or not immediate action is wise, practical and useful is of less importance than just making the problem go away right now.
This is exactly what we are faced with on the torture issue and the question of whether or not the Justice Department should take the inquiry and possible prosecution up to the highest levels of government. On one hand, we have those that say it is in the best interest of national security to avoid such public transparency. Even President Obama himself would prefer to put this issue to bed now and focus more on the future rather than the past. On the other hand, we have those who, knowing that these policies were immoral and illegal, insist that the very groundwork on which this country was founded is on the line. The Iraq war and its accompanying POW practices were illegal and for the United States NOT to prosecute the top people who condoned these practices is an illegal act in and of itself. Our national security and international reputation actually suffered substantially from all this blatant nose-thumbing at national and international law. Therefore, to go after these criminals would not hurt us further; quite the contrary. We MUST prosecute the guilty to in fact redeem ourselves and return to those founding principles of our Constitution.
Here then, is an Op-Ed piece supporting the side that wants to put this torture issue behind us, without further investigation and possible prosecution of officials, i.e. Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush:
I do understand Roger Cohen’s viewpoint. Yes, our government, media and Justice Department all failed in their oversight of the tactics used during the last seven years with regard to the war in Iraq. Cohen believes that these checks and balances are now back in working order. He feels that Obama’s decision to “out” the offending memos is enough for us to assume the correct path. Sorry: unless this process is taken to its natural conclusion, that being accountability and prosecution, enough is NOT enough. I am a big believer in consequences. Atrocious acts WILL happen over and over again unless the resultant consequences are appropriate, steep and effective in dissuading future copy-cat behavior. To refuse to fully investigate and if necessary, suffer consequences, would be a repudiation of everything that is the United States of America.
On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of individuals who want this investigation to go as high up as necessary. Paul Krugman today had an article in the New York Times focusing on the “soul” of America:
Read his words carefully. You would have to be a horse’s ass to deny Krugman’s last thought that to prevent further invesitigation is to deny our future:
“We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward — because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.”
A few other events of relevance must be cited. On the MSNBC Rachel Maddow Show earlier this week, she had a true coup of an interview with Philip Zelikow. He was on board at the Office of Legal Counsel at the same time as Jay Bybee and John Yoo. However, Zelikow took the opposite position on torture: he deemed such practices as water-boarding to be illegal. Gutsy. Of course, his memos have since disappeared. Please watch the following video from Maddow’s interview with Zelikow:
Then today, Zelikow had his own say in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times:
Finally, President Obama, on April 15th, had a sit-down debate on the torture issue, listening to both sides. Keep in mind that we are dealing with not only transparency of this issue, but also the content, and if this content demands prosecution. Unlike John Boehner, who accused Obama of being unpatriotic because he released these memos to the American public, this panel assembled by Obama dealt with the whys and wherefores of future prosecution. What kind of idiot is this Boehner? No matter how illegal these acts were, Boehner believes that the public should have remained in the dark. Does he not care at all about the content and substance of what went on, or is it all about covering up? Has Boehner ever commented on the sheer illegality of these torture tactics? No. The content of the memos is not a worthy issue for Boehner; it is the publication of the memos, informing the public, that is the total issue for him. All looks, no substance. But hey, he has a real nice tan.
Anyway, on one side of this debate were Leon Panetta, current CIA chief, and the immediate four previous CIA heads. These men were in favor of not prosecuting. On the other side of the debate were Defense head Robert Gates, Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and White House counsel Gregory Craig. I must tell you, I have been most impressed with the thoughts and actions of Robert Gates during these first few months of our new administration. His comments at this particular meeting were wise because they were so simple and true. Gates said that the publication of these memos that rationalized the legality of these torturous acts were “inevitable.” How true; how prescient. Remember: it is usually the cover-up, not the initial deed, that slams shuts the door on the acceptance of consideration and sympathy in any scandal.
At any rate, the forces on the side for public awareness and follow-up investigation won the day. The phenomenal aspect that I am in awe of though, had to do with the way President Obama handled this meeting. First, he gathered members of opposing camps so that he could have a fair and honest overview. Then, once he made up his mind, he dictated a memo right in front of all the participants. I guess we know where exactly the buck stops. We actually have an actively engaged, interested and responsible leader. Glory be! The link below is a much more detailed account of this meeting. It was the lead article of the Washington Post today:
Finally, we must remember that the final decision to go forth in this investigation and possibly bring those guilty parties to justice is solely within the power of the Department of Justice, not President Obama. So far, all our President has done in this matter is to fact find and release that information to the American public. Imagine! The outrage and accusations of “traitor” that have befallen our President are, above all, the ultimate violation of our Constitution.
So please forgive me for all this assigned reading. If you value your freedoms and your right to speak and act on them, you owe it to yourself and your country to “get smart”.