Tag Archives: Torture

::Sigh:: White House Ok’s Gitmo Tribunals

Yes. We. Can. Unless of course, we can’t. In which case, well, that sucks:

White House Says Military Tribunals Can Resume at Guantánamo – NYTimes.com.

A couple things about this: the first is that its an obvious disappointment to have Gitmo remain open when such a big deal was made about closing it. That’s not good politics, because it remains something Republicans can potentially make an “Obama is a pussy Democrat” argument with.

But the second thing is: lets be clear about the actual moral and legal problem. The problem is torture, suspension of habeas corpus and the lack of due process for Gitmo detainees. Closing the Gitmo prison (because remember: its still a military base that will not close) is a very nice thing for optics and politics, but does nothing in and of itself to make things better.

We still have people in Gitmo who have not been charged. And Obama also signed an order allowing the military to continue holding them. That’s probably because we don’t have anything to charge them with because the initial lockup was so poorly executed in the first place. Lest we forget: due process isn’t just a nicety for prisoners, it is also insurance against the kinds of wrongful imprisonments that undermine our rule of law.

We have lots and lots of people at Gitmo that represent (I am assuming) a direct threat to our safety and a direct threat to the legitimacy of our legal system. Scilla and Charybdis, if you will. And when faced with these two poles of certain doom, President Obama has chosen to punt. Again.

Thank you, President George Bush, for fucking up so completely. And thank you, President Barack Obama, for not having come up with a better solution than the status quo.

With a Stroke of a Pen

I’ve been blogging for at least five years, now. I’ve been doing so right along with a lot of my other Lefty buddies, commenting on and applauding a lot of the same news sources, such as Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and what has become the entire MSNBC lineup. And right along with Bill Mahar, too. I thought I understood what they were saying when we all complained about George Bush, but in recent months, I’ve begun to doubt that.

In recent months, since the Obama Administration took the White House, Progressive talking heads have been consistently pushing on a number of issues. Gays in the military, Guantanamo, the stimulus package and many others. And the common refrain has been some variation of, “with the stroke of a pen, President Obama could end all this…”

Perhaps I’ve lost my mind, but I could have sworn that one of the things we didn’t like about George Bush was… his use of executive orders and signing statements to bypass the will of the Congress? Did I totally misread that? Because now that we have our man in the White House, we want him to employ precisely the same tactics that I recall people decrying as circumventing the U.S. Constitution. And beyond that apparent contradiction, there are a number of problems with executive overrides of this type which are also worth mentioning.

The first should be obvious: if we can turn over all of Bush’s executive hanky-panky this easily, so too can the next president “correct” the Obama Administration. I may be confused about what we Lefties were talking about a few years ago, but I remember my U.S. History and Government class, and this is definitely not what the Founders had in mind. We are not meant to be a cult of personality like Saddam’s Iraq or Kim’s North Korea. Our laws are not meant to be subject to the whims of the most powerful ape in the room. We may like things fast in our modern world, but some things are better left up to the stodgy, old, slow and yes, painfully prejudiced and ignorant Congress.

Secondly, if the president does not get the work done through Congress, Congress can always pass a law that circumnavigates his circumnavigation. Potentially, they can do so in a way that overrides the veto. Remember how Congress’ slowness was a bad thing? Well, with a stroke of a pen, you’ll be counting on it.

Third, in some cases, it’s really not that simple anyway. The president is sitting on a prison in Guantanamo filled with people who have been wrongly imprisoned. People whose basic human rights have been violated, which is a crime which our Constitution is particularly well-suited to prosecute… harshly. In fact, history buffs will know that the entire point of the Constitution is precisely that.

The president cannot simply wave his pen and declare “Do-over!” He cannot free Gitmo detainees without complications. And he certainly cannot do that by, once again, short-circuiting the legal process. The only legally justifiable means of releasing the Guantanamo detainees is by putting them on trial, but since most of the evidence against even those guilty of actual crimes against the United States was obtained via torture and is therefore not admissible, that means both the guilty and the innocent would be set completely free.

The CIA is another sticky wicket. The good and bad news about stable democracies is that the institutions of government – from the Department of Agriculture to the military to the CIA – maintain contiguous operation beyond presidential terms. The Department of the Interior does not suddenly loose all it’s staff and get repopulated every time a new president takes the oath, though it came close in the Bush Administration. It is this contiguous institutionalization of government that provides the democratic stability we enjoy as Americans, not the voting part. There is even an argument to be made that this bureaucratic stability is what eventually ground the Bush Administration down in the end: whistleblowers throughout the government leaked the documents and instigated the investigations that mired the Bushies down for the past three or four years.

But in the case of the CIA, that also means there are bodies buried deep in the vaults of that secret agency that no president has probably ever known about. And even if presidents do, we the public don’t. Again, untangling this web, especially where torture has been used, is not as simple as people seem to think it is. And as we’ve learned from the Bush Administration, the leadership can only push agencies just so far before they earn the ire of career bureaucrats who will outlast them. I’m quite certain that, as a Constitutional law professor, President Barack Obama is quite well aware of the problem torture presents. I’m quite certain that he’s interested in removing the stain of torture from our government – not out of ideological zeal, but out of fidelity to the Constitution he spent his life studying. But this, like much of the damage done by the Bush Administration, is going to take time to put right.

Of course, I understand that we need people to push issues. Just because a president with a D next to his name gets elected does not mean that the things we need done will get done. There has to be pressure on politicians if anything is to be accomplished, especially presidents; there needs to be a loyal opposition, a position for which the Republicans are ill-equipped these days. But we need to be cautious that, in pushing for small changes, we don’t arrive at unforeseen and lamentable large changes. Pressure is one thing, but irresponsibility is quite another.

Newt Gingrich’s All-in Fear Mongering

This is absolutely amazing. Newt Gingrich is being taken seriously on the issue of national security on Meet the Press today. I’ll have to update this post when the video becomes available, but I suspect Crooks and Liars will doubtless already have something up before then.

Newt actually said on the air that “you should be afraid.” Well, that’s a wonderfully nuanced policy position. Exactly the kind of thing you want out of a loyal opposition party.

But most amusing of all is that, in two sentences, Newt managed to both insist that President Obama is practically identical to the Bush Administration on most matters associated with national defense, and then when asked by Dick David Gregory if the nation is less safe with President Obama, he answered, “Yes.” Seemingly devoid of any sense of irony, too.

Another note on the meme building up on Military Commissions: we’ve used military commissions since we’ve had a military, starting with George Washington. And it was George Washington who set the precedent against torture in US military tradition. Just because they’re called the same thing that they were under the Bush Administration doesn’t make them wrong: people arrested on the field of battle, as most of those in Guantanamo were picked up literally on a field of battle in Afghanistan, should be tried in military courts. That’s the right way to do it, and there’s no reason to think that military courts are unjust, unless we’re really going to rethink our relationship with our military.

The problem with the Bush-era military tribunals was the mechanics of those tribunals which were pretty clearly contrary to the Constitution and the history of military justice in this country for two centuries. That’s rather significant in the discussion, not that you’re going to hear it much.

Republican Morals

I’m having a hard time pinning down a specific example to cite in text form. But the current Republican talking point for why there shouldn’t be any investigations into torture basicall says that, “people were scared after 911 and we did things to get information. To go back and revisit those decisions out of context is wrong.” Watch enough news and you’ll see it.

So, what Republicans are currently saying is that – contrary to forty years of their own rhetoric – morals really are relative. Whatever we thought of torture before and after 911 is immaterial to the fact that we felt it necessary at the time.

Talk about having your cake and eating it, too.

Subtle Distinction: Historical vs. Contemporary

I’m surprised I need to make this distinction, but allow me to point out that there is a difference between accepting history with all it’s warts and accepting contemporary crimes as simply a matter of historical fact. As the torture story continues to evolve in the media, we find that many people, particularly Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough, want to simply dismiss the acts committed in the Bush Administration as part of a larger historical fact of life which cannot be helped. For example, let’s review the TPM “Day in 100 Seconds” from yesterday:

The fire bombing of Dresden was indeed a nightmarish and shameful act. The dropping of atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were the most egregious acts of war in the history of mankind, it’s fair to say. And in both cases, while we may argue around the particulars, these acts were done in the heat of a war when generals did not believe other alternatives remained. Sherman’s march to the sea also comes to mind.

But those things are in the past. We might have done something different at the time, but we did not. And in the animal nature of man and the horrors of war, these things do happen repeatedly throughout history. We cannot condemn all of our history – or that of mankind – as simply evil because of the evil acts contained in that history. All of this is true. Yet that hardly justifies or excuses criminal acts of war committed in our recent past, still subject to criminal investigation. Neither justifies, excuses those acts, nor releases us from the duty to prosecute those acts.

Put simply, the question is this: because Jesse James killed a lot of people and robbed a lot of banks, does that mean we have to accept that bank robbers and murderers operate in our midst currently? Or do we hold the present to a different standard than the past? By Morning Joe’s standards, there is no particular reason to seek out Osama bin-Laden, since after all, terrorists have always existed. Or how about Bernie Madoff? Thief is probably as old an occupation as whore, don’t you think?

Breaking With the President on Torture

Readers of this website know I have made no secret of my support for President Barack Obama. That support remains unflagging to this point. But politicians have one set of agendas, and the people another, so there is a time for all of us to break with our supported politicians and pressure them to do things they don’t want to do. I say this not as an apologia, but because the media’s insistence on a purely dualistic world of supporters and detractors completely obscures the meaning of the term “loyal opposition.” Opposition to your president does not necessarily presuppose hateful invectives.

Such is the case with the torture investigations. Clearly, Obama is not in favour of going forward with them. And as a practical matter, I don’t necessarily blame him: he’s not just the president, he is also a president, which means he has the power to make or break precedent in the Oval Office and so does his next successor. The precedent set here might be that a sitting president can prosecute a former president for misdeeds in office. Presidents have generally been very reluctant to do this for a simple reason: regardless of the justness of a given prosecution, the precedent leaves itself open to politically-motivated abuse down the line. Just as many of us have argued in the cases of eavesdropping and other violations of civil rights under the Bush Administration, the justness of motivation does not always outweigh the potential for abuse in the future.

And mindful as I am of that dangerous precedent, there has to be some point at which the potential threat of abuse is outweighed by the clear danger presented by the violations of the former administration. In this case, we’re not dealing with illegal actions that lived in a bubble, cut off from effect the moment President Bush left office. What we have is, again, a dangerous precedent that says that when a president wants to do something, all he needs is a few pliable lawyers to write grade-school legal justifications and he’s off to the races. And not just “something.” We’re talking about torturing human beings. . . on top of wrongful incarceration and illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens. Taken as a whole, the Bush Administration opened up a little slice of totalitarianism that must – must – be closed, nailed shut and boarded up forever.

And what’s more, I think that there is also a political reality right now that cannot be ignored and in this one case, should not be ignored. The same wave of realization and needful correction that brought Barack Obama to power also drives the need to redress this most awful of crimes against the American consciousness. He cannot turn that tide back without crushing himself in the process.

Between the American public’s obvious need for self-correction and the institutional need for justice, the need to break with the president and make him do something unprecedented is overwhelming. And for the first time, we see Barack Obama being overtaken by the wave rather than riding it. This is what it means to be president, sometimes. This is what it means to elect one, too. As troublesome as the situation is and as dangerous as the path before us may be, for the benefit of our president and our nation, we must continue to push him to investigate the torture policies instituted by the Bush Administration.

Did the Left Just Become the Moral Standard in America?

Not to pretend that either Left or Right, Republican or Democrat actually holds the morel high ground as an intrinsic quality. Far from it. But we keep hearing over and over again on the news that the pressure to investigate torture is coming from the Left. As if the shit-storm we’re seeing right now could possibly be generated by the relatively small group of independents on the Left.

We know that the media loves to drive the Right-Left Bloodsport story, but the idea that a bunch of cigarette-smoking, absinthe-drinking, goatee-wearing bongo-playing poet intellectuals have driven the story of Americans torturing perceived enemies into the tops of all the headlines is simply absurd. This story is being driven by a genuine outrage across a large section of the American public over – call me over sensitive – genuinely outrageous stuff.

And for fuck’s sake, people, does it not matter to anyone in the MSM that crimes appear to have been committed? Politics be damned. Optics be damned. Crimes committed in a nation of laws need to be prosecuted, even if you think they were justified; justification is a question for opinion makers, immaterial to the proper prosecution of laws.

Even more frustrating about the conversation – and even more of a measure of the psychosis that the War on Terror has thrown a large portion of our nation’s power structure, as reflected by the media that bathes itself in that power – is the idea that, because there’s a war going on, we cannot stop to examine our mistakes. This is simply not the case and there is simply no precedent for that type of heedlessness in our history. Plenty of prosecutions have happened in war time, from the Revolutionary War right up to the present day.

I would like someone in the media to patiently explain to my obviously ignorant ass what, precisely, about the United States of America continuing to prosecute it’s laws would embolden the enemy? What about the United States of American proving that it’s laws can withstand it’s institutions and it’s institutions can withstand it’s laws makes us weak?

We derive our strength from our laws. Crimes appear to have been committed. A proper investigation, even if no prosecutions or convictions proceed from it, is the only strategic move.

Two Must-Watch Videos on Torture @Chrominance

MSNBC had some great work on the torture issue – because there’s no question now that torture is exactly the right word to use for the whole disgusting ball of wax – by both Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. I’ve collected two video segments for you and if you’ve not already watched them, I highly recommend them.

The first is Keith Olbermann talking to Brig. Gen. Janice Karpinski about Abu Ghraib. You might remember her as the woman who was discharged for the torture mess there when it was leaked by members of the military. Her impassioned speech when she talks about what she and others in the military had to suffer – taking the fall for what is now clearly and factually a policy set by the highest levels of the Bush White House – is magnetic. This poor woman suffered a dishonerable fate for having done her duty with honor. How many more are there like her in and out of the military right now?

Next up is Rachel Maddow doing her typical best at breaking down the story in a way that is concise, clear and easily understandable to most every American. And she does it in her typically creative style while never straying from the seriousness of the issue. There is no doubt left that the horrors we saw at Abu Ghraib are the exact same policies that Dick Cheney keeps going on Fox News to defend. Fine if he wants to defend them, as long as we’re all very clear that crimes were committed and Dick Cheney says it’s OK.

I have not to this point seriously believed that prosecutions over the torture policies of the Bush Administration were possible. No reflection on the Obama Administration, but every White House is resistant to prosecuting previous administrations for fear of the same being turned on them. Precedent is a bitch. But as this story unfolds, two things are becoming clear: that the torture policies of the Bush White House were much, much worse than we feared and that this is an issue which is destined to get out of the hands of the Obama Administration – indeed, it may already have. There is a sense of inevitability in the air, of justice that will not be denied. The question is: how high up the ladder to the charges actually end up going, and will that height be adequate to the crimes committed?

Cheney on The News Hour

Updated and Reposted: Here is the video and transcript of Dick Cheney on The News Hour.

It’s pretty rare that an interview on The News Hour gets flagged as something special, but the interview I’m watching of Dick Cheney by Jim Leher is pretty interesting actually. Jim’s letting him talk forever, but its Cheney’s long, circuitous routes around making any statement at all about anything that are what makes this whole thing amazing. I’ve never seen a person drone on so long in Corporate Douchenese. It’s fascinating.

For example, when asked about the detainee who Bush Administration officials says was tortured, Dick Cheney- Vice President of the United States – actually said, “oh, well, we have regulations. . . She said those regulations were followed. . . Our people follow the regulations. . . blah, blah, . . . But I can’t guarantee perfection.”

No shit, really? Did the VPOTUS just say that you can’t cry over spilled milk or accidentally tortured prisoners of war?

I’ve got to get a link to this video and put it on this post.

About Last Summer: Our Bad.

Hey, Brittan.  It’s us, the United States.  You look good today.

So, yeah.  Remember that whole big flap thing about the “extraordinary rendition,” and how you said that none of our planes used to render prisoners had refueled on your bases anywhere?  Yeah, what a pisser that whole thing was, eh?  With the media and the parliament and all.  So last week. . .   Well, the darnedest thing happened.

Seems some guys down at the State Department accidentally left a box of floppies next to the toaster in the break room, and well, we just found them.  We’re always telling those guys not to bring their office stuff into the break room, but you know how it is, sometimes.  Anyway, it turns out that there may have been one, possibly two, of our planes that refueled in Diego Garcia.

I mean, with a name like Diego Garcia, who would have thought that was one of your guy’s bases anyway, right?  Don’t you guys normally name things like, “Her Majesty’s blah-blah-blah,” and stuff like that? You guys always name stuff after your queen chicks and such, and the English ones, not like the French ones and definitely no Spanish ones, if you have any of those lying around.

Well, the thing is, we know this might be a bit of a bummer for you.  But you guys got a new Prime Minister, so maybe if you just play cool, it’ll all blow over.  If you guys have anyone you need to render, we can totally hook you up, seriously.  Just ask.

We cool?  Awesome.