Saturday, August 29, 2009

Morale vs. Moral

A federal judge in New York has ordered the government to release a report

by the CIA's Inspector General. The report summarizes an investigation the Inspector

General conducted in 2003. It was completed in 2004; but is only being released now

because the ACLU (God bless 'em) sued under the Freedom of Information Act. The

Inspector General investigated charges that CIA operatives exceeded legal limits when

interrogating and torturing prisoners held in secret prisons located in Eastern Europe

and other locales. (Interestingly, no one seems very exercised about the existence of

secret prisons set up to be outside the reach of American law.)

Bits and pieces of this report have been reported over the years, but now more

information is coming out including threatening a prisoner with a gun and a power drill,

staging mock executions, and many other techniques that go beyond the legal torture

Bush signed off on. These guys weren't content to try and drown prisoners, psychologically

and physically devastating them through sleep deprivation and sound bombardment;

they were encouraged to do whatever it took to get information. This report is so

disturbing that when Attorney General Eric Holder read it, he said it made him sick;

and he has now appointed an independent prosecutor to investigate these allegations.

The weeping and gnashing of teeth over the appointment of such a prosecutor

is being heard all over Washington, but most prominently from Regressives who argue

that such an investigation will hurt the morale of loyal American agents who simply did

what their country asked them to do. We are going to punish them for being loyal

Americans. One Senator says we are sending CIA agents the message to be timid; and

the resulting lack of aggressiveness will hurt our ability to gather vital intelligence in

a timely manner.

I just want to be clear. We should not investigate what the CIA did in our name

because they won't torture with enthusiasm the next time they are asked. If we investigate

and prosecute CIA agents for breaking the law and engaging in immoral conduct, they

might not follow such an illegal order in the future. We don't want to hurt anyone's

feelings for the inhuman and inhumane ways they treated prisoners because they were

following orders and that is their duty. Do I understand this correctly?

While I realize I run the risk of beating a long-time dead horse, I just have to

remind you we settled this question at Nuremberg. In both Germany and Japan, the

United States executed German and Japanese officials convicted of crimes against

humanity. We repudiated their claims they were just following orders. In fact, we went

a step further and stated it is a soldier's or anyone's duty to disobey an illegal or immoral

order; and if they do not, they will be held accountable.

Just recently, former Army Lt. William Calley spoke to a small group and

apologized for his role in the massacre of over 200 men, women, and children in the

Vietnamese village of My Lai. Calley stated he never should have obeyed the order to

kill them. He is right of course; however, it is worth noting no one giving him that order

was ever prosecuted. It is further worth noting no one ordering the atrocities conducted

at Abu Ghraib prison has ever been prosecuted, even though those orders came directly

from the Bush Administration and the Pentagon. One point does seem clear. Individual

agents have to be held responsible, but those who issued the orders must be held to that

same standard. If an agent is indicted, the person or persons who gave the order, approved

the policy or oversaw the implementation must be indicted as well.

Former Vice President Cheney defends the torture of prisoners, creating a secret

gulag of prisons, illegally spying on Americans, and eviscerating the Fourth Amendment

by claiming all of the illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional actions saved thousands of

American lives and kept America safe. The end justifies the means. He makes this claim

despite no evidence to corroborate it. FBI Director Robert Mueller has testified he knows

of no instance where information acquired through torture prevented an attack and saved

any lives. Experts in the field of torture and interrogation say torture rarely produces

actionable intelligence. However, the real response to Cheney is that settled upon at

Nuremberg. The end does not justify the means and no one is above the rule of law.

In the recent past, the World Criminal Court has put Serbian strongman

Slobodan Milosevic on trial for crimes against humanity including the torture of

prisoners. A world-wide manhunt eventually led to the arrest of Rhadavan Karadich

on similar charges. Just recently an arrest warrant was issued for Sudanese President

Omar al-Bashir for his role in the massacre of millions. Yet American officials continue

to argue that following orders gives one immunity from prosecution.

Maybe prosecution isn't either possible or desirable. However, finding the

truth is. Who did the torturing? Who ordered them to torture? Who approved a policy

of torture? Who authorized the secret prisons? Who knew about all of this? Did

Congressional leaders sign off on all of this? Did the President and Vice President

participate in these discussions and decisions? The only way to avoid this in the future

is to understand how and why it happened.

I am far less concerned about the morale of a CIA agent than the possibility of

immoral actions taken in the name of the United States of America. How about you?

What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

1 comment:

  1. Health Care - Torture - Military Spending - the wasting of countless lives, American and other ... all of this makes perfectly good sense to holders of the conspiracy theory that 911 was an inside job.
    Why are we assuming that people who could stage such an event care about anyone but themselves and whoever serves them?