Thursday, May 14, 2009

In Our Name

From the first time I took a civics or government class, I have been told that this democracy is a republic. We don't get to directly vote on issues, but rather "We" select representatives to act on our behalf. The government is acting in our stead. The reality is that in the eyes of the world "We" invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. "We" abandoned key missile treaties and "We" encouraged elections in the Palestinian territories and then ignored the results because "We" didn't like who was elected. In the world's eyes "We" tortured prisoners in violation of our own laws and international laws too. How do you feel about these acts being done in your name? The latest revelations on "torture-gate"(I had to say it) just keep getting worse and range from incompetence to ideological immorality. The New York Times reports that the architects of the new torture rules (have you noticed how the corporate media scrupulously calls it "enhanced interrogation techniques" rather than torture?) including the head of the CIA, George Tenet, had no idea that the techniques they were adopting had been used on Americans by the Chinese to torture false confessions out of them. They had no idea that the United States put Japanese military officials on trial for war crimes because they engaged in water boarding. The psychiatrist who had been the moving force behind the use of these new techniques had never conducted an interrogation himself; and the CIA and the Bush Administration ignored memos from knowledgeable rank and file officers telling them that these techniques could backfire, and actually hurt attempts to gather information from key suspects. The Justice Department point man, John Yoo, in the Office of Legal Council, according to the Times, was ideologically committed to promulgating a view that the President, as Commander in Chief, could violate the law, ignore Congress, and violate international agreements because he is acting to protect the nation "at war" with the terrorists. Yoo, a disciple of Vice President Cheney, was appalled at how the Presidency had been weakened since Watergate; and he was building new legal opinions that would rebuild a strong and dominant executive branch. In opinions that Yoo is alleged to have written, he suggested that the President could order the military into the streets of American cities and carry out arrests for various offenses including the exercise of free speech (in violation of posse comitatus laws, not to mention the Constitution), and could order torture to be carried out in violation of both American and international law. Yoo wasn't interested in the effectiveness of the techniques or their history. He was only interested in building an ideological case for a President as war time dictator. Documents released by the Obama administration and the Senate Armed Services Committee show that Condoleeza Rice lied when she claimed no involvement in the torture regulations. She lied when she claimed the United States doesn't engage in torture. The Senate report claims she gave verbal approval of the new rules in 2002. The Armed Services Committee Report also goes on to state that there was a direct relationship between the promulgation of these torture techniques and the abuses that occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The report shows that Bush Administration claims that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were carried out by "...a few bad apples" was totally false. What happened in that prison was a direct result of these rule changes adopted by the CIA with the approval of the President and his administration. In the case of one prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, the Times reports that lower level CIA officials had argued that they had gotten all they could out of him, and these new torture techniques would not accomplish anything. They were ignored and he was tortured. The scene was so horrific that veteran interrogators had to leave the area so as not to hear the screams nor see what was being done to this man. Remember, this was all being done in your name. This man was being tortured for you. George Tenet and John Yoo were working on your behalf and with your permission. The actual torturers were acting honorably in the highest tradition of service to their country, to you. Yet, not one tape exists of even one of these honorable interrogations. Why not? If all of this was necessary and effective and honorable, why destroy all the evidence of what was done? The more we learn about what happened and the process that produced these new torture methods, the less honor there is to go around. Where was Congress during all of this? Who was watching the watchers? Why didn't they step in and say no, stop, this isn't going to happen? Where were the Democrats and Republicans who represent you, to stand up for the rule of law? It turns out they did nothing. The Bush Administration claims that the Congressional leadership was thoroughly briefed about all the new torture rules. They claim that the heads of the intelligence committees and the ranking minority members were informed about what was going on. As of today, there is no evidence that even one of them raised any questions or voiced any opposition when briefed. They were prohibited from talking to their staffs or any other member of Congress about what they learned. They were prohibited from seeking out experts in torture and interrogation to get opinions as to the efficacy and advisability of using torture. The system is set up so that actions taken by the executive branch which raise some of the most profound moral and legal questions, and require a check from the legislative branch, are the very acts that are protected from congressional scrutiny. The evidence also appears clear that those members of Congress who knew what was happening, did nothing to stop it perhaps out of fear of being labeled "soft"on terrorists and terrorism. The cavalier manner and slipshod way that these torture rules were implemented is beyond shocking. It is criminal and immoral. We are told that everyone was expecting another attack. We are told that everyone thought there was a ticking bomb. We are told that it's easy to second guess now, but that times were different then. In other words, the end justifies the means. However, neither Vice President Cheney nor former CIA director Michael Hayden can point to a single attack that was stopped or imminent plans disrupted through the use of torture. More importantly, they cannot say that whatever information was acquired could not have been obtained using techniques that were legal and moral and would not have involved torture. President Obama says that no CIA officer who acted in good faith, in light of these legal opinions, will be prosecuted. He says he will leave it up to his Attorney General, Eric Holder, to determine whether to prosecute John Yoo and the other lawyers in the Office of the White House Counsel for the opinions they wrote. Members of Congress are pressing the White House to create a commission similar to the one that investigated the September 11th attacks to investigate torture done in your name. The President has refused so far, and says Congressional investigators could get too partisan and divide this country. Could it be true that Republicans favor torture, secrecy, and a dictator president; while Democrats oppose the very same things? I do not believe that for a minute. If we say this is torture, but we won't investigate or prosecute the torturers; what difference is there between the United States and numerous banana republics around the world? These policies did not just have ramifications and implications in this country. The Senate Armed Services Committee report shows a direct connection between the torture approved by then Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the use of the same torture at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, in secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, and in Iraq, particularly Abu Ghraib. This went from the top down. It wasn't a few "bad apples"; it was the whole tree and it went from the President to the troops in the field. Recently, I heard a former CIA operative say that if another September 11th attack occurred, CIA officers might refuse a direct Presidential order to torture to get information. He said this controversy will cause them to second guess and refuse out of fear of being prosecuted here or in other parts of the world...Good! What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

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