Thoughts On Torture
The recent revelations came as no surprise. However, now there can be no doubt that the United States tortured people. What are the repercussions? The Senate Team spent five years researching and putting the CIA torture report together. Apparently, it is quite thorough. What now?
Knowing this puts us in quite a bind. We can’t simply say (or at least we shouldn’t say), as Obama did a few years ago, that we need to look forward, not back. The flaws in this thinking are obvious, as all crimes necessarily happen in the past. With this logic, the defense of a bank robber or rapist would be very simple: “hey, that was last week. Why are you bringing it up now?”
The United States is a signer on treaties that make it clear that, should a country find out that torture has occurred, they are required to prosecute the responsible parties and impose appropriate punishment. In fact, should a government opt to not prosecute, it obligates all other countries who are a party to the treaty, to take legal action to bring the perpetrators to justice. Spain took this to heart but their efforts have thus far been subverted by U.S. pressure.
The CIA was given the right to redact the report. I’m unclear why the agency being accused of serious wrongdoing would be the one chosen for this responsibility. Not surprisingly, the report was so severely redacted that the word is, it is all but useless. No names of the torturers or the countries that allowed us to do the deeds within their borders. No names of who ordered/approved these crimes. All blacked out. As some have described, it is only a collection of verbs.
In fact, even the identities of the people tortured are redacted. Really? Why would the government care if we know the names of the people we brutalized? I suppose, one could argue that it would create additional civil liability problems for the CIA, or even worse, in the cases where the individuals were tortured to death.
The Obama Administration has said the current redactions are fine. The Senate Intelligence Committee has cried foul, stating that redactions are only supposed to be for information, that if released would harm National Security. Its purpose is not intended to hide the names of criminals or save an agency of the government from embarrassment. As for civil liability, shouldn’t we expect and even welcome paying damages to those we have damaged? Wouldn’t it be the right thing to do?
In Our Name
We should be outraged. I know I am. It brings me to tears and turns my stomach. As representatives of you and me, people did heinous, despicable, and sadistic things. Then they lied about the effectiveness of using these cruel methods to extract actionable information. Isn’t it other countries that get people to confess to crimes they did not commit with electric wires on genitals, simulated drowning (real drowning only you stop before the person dies), and beatings, etc? Not us, not my country.
People will do or say anything to make the pain stop. They will even make false statements, like Saddam Hussein was involved with al Qaeda in the attacks of September 11th. All it takes is being drowned dozens of times.
Everyday, all across this country, people get harsh sentences for minor non-violent crimes. Yet, our representatives don’t have the political will, or the stomach to bring the torturers to justice, let alone the people who approved these methods. No, the criminals are free, the media invites them on talk shows as they pretend to be elder statesmen, pursue their hobbies, and travel on book signing tours. In some cases having bragged in writing about what they did. Granted, they are occasionally inconvenienced by not being able to travel to some countries for fear of arrest. All things considered, a very small price to pay for their crimes.
What does it mean when power and money makes someone immune from prosecution? The fact is, if you are a member of the elite class and have enough power, you can torture people, you can lie us into a war and hence be responsible for thousands upon thousands of lives being cut short and suffer absolutely no consequences. You won’t even have to endure a punishment comparable to what we commonly mete out to people for simple drug possession. Is this fair? Is it just? Are we still a democracy where no one is above the law? Sadly, the answers are no, no, and no.
Picture from Steve Jurvetson licensed under Creative Commons