The extent to which the Senate Intelligence committee report was about obsessing with the past is limited to the fact that documenting crimes, including war crimes, means looking into the past. It means looking at all the lies that were told . Every Republican who said that torture led the CIA to the chauffeur who led us to Bin Laden lied. Every time a war crimes apologist claimed torture saved lies, they lied. We were treated to twisted interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and the very definition of torture. In the name of these war crimes, its defenders hoped that we would forget that following World War 2 we prosecuted and executed people for the very acts, that had become part of our “enhanced interrogation program.”
Water-boarding, stress positions, “rectal hydration” and a host of other horrific acts the CIA utilized are torture. Whether we call it what it is or give it a more sanitized name like “enhanced interrogation techniques” it remains torture. Torture remains a crime under the Geneva Conventions, Nuremberg Law and the U.S. Criminal Code, along with other international treaties. We can’t escape the fact that even this scrubbed Executive Summary, says two irrefutable and disturbing things about who we are. War crimes were committed in our name and the only person who was held accountable is the one person who tried to stop the atrocities. John Kiriakou remains in prison while Bush and Cheney remain free to justify the unjustifiable. Cheney even had the gall to suggest the atrocities committed in our name were “patriotic“.
Just to give this some perspective, we prosecuted (and in some cases executed) the Nazis for a host of war crimes, that also included torture. We tried, convicted and in some cases executed people following the Tokyo trials, for war crimes that also included torture.
The international community continues to prosecute people from the former Yugoslavia for their atrocities, primarily in Bosnia and Kosovo. We called for the creation of the ICTY and the ICTR to prosecute people for the sort of atrocities that were done in our name. We were all for creating a permanent international criminal court – at least until the international community insisted that the rules apply to us as well.
The lies that torture saved lives or led us to Bin Laden circulate every time we edge toward a serious discussion on the torture that was done in our name. Torture also provided its defenders in the Bush administration the cover they needed to justify the war in Iraq. When faced with that reality, torture duped us into that war. Torture is responsible for every death in Iraq. The Bush/Cheney Torture program is responsible for every American who fought in that war and was brought home in a body bag, or was injured physically, psychologically or both.
This report forces us to face the fact that even if we can check our brains and morality at the door, the utilitarian argument is a farce. The only people who “benefitted” from the false information obtained as a result of torture are the Bush Administration and those who defend the Iraq war on the lie that Iraq and Al-Quaeda were in cahoots.
We should remember that what we are in the process of reading and digesting is a scrubbed Executive Summary. Don’t get me wrong. I am glad that after all these years, we have some information on the atrocities conducted in our name. This report contains information about the war crimes, tells us that the CIA’s headquarters “instructed” personnel on how to torture. It tells us about the techniques used, who designed them and how much the Bush Administration paid their torture designers. We learned the CIA decided if and who it would brief. In fact, Colin Powel was initially kept out of the loop out of fears that he would “blow his stack.” We learned the CIA refused to hold the officer who killed his torture victim accountable. It’s a report full of horrors and acts that sound like something out of Nazi Germany, Milosevic’s Yugoslavia or Pinochet’s Chile.
However, this is 1/10th of the material in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report. We don’t know what information was left out of the report and what information wasn’t investigated by the Senate. It’s pretty much a given that whatever that information is, it is probably worse than the information we have.
This report cannot and must not be the end. I join with others calling for Bush and Cheney to be prosecuted. Actually the list should also include their “lawyers”, their torture designers, the people in the CIA who made the decisions and those who “just obeyed orders” and tortured people. As much as I support and respect President Obama, I respectfully differ with the sentiment that prosecutions for war crimes is about politicizing policy or obsessing with the past. It is very much about about providing reasons to hold those responsible accountable, to say never again and mean it. Prosecutions won’t change the past, but they have a potential to change the future into one more compatible with the principles we identify as American values. It is also about how we define American patriotism and we have to deal with a CIA that is under the mistaken impression that it is above the law, accountability and other niceties that go with living in a civilized and free society.
Image: Mother Jones