It's hardly news that the US instituted and for years maintained a systematic torture regime, but the success of the Obama administration in blocking all judicial proceedings has meant there has been no official decree that this is so. A comprehensive report just issued by a truly bipartisan group of former high-level Washington officials (including military officials) is as close as we are likely to get to such an official proclamation.
The Report explains that the impetus behind it was that "the Obama administration declined, as a matter of policy, to undertake or commission an official study of what happened, saying it was unproductive to 'look backwards' rather than forward." It concludes - in unblinking and definitive fashion - that "it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture"; this finding is "offered without reservation"; it is "not based on any impressionistic approach" but rather "grounded in a thorough and detailed examination of what constitutes torture in many contexts, notably historical and legal"; and "the nation's highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture." It also debunks the popular claim that torture was confined to three cases of waterboarding, documenting that more than three people were subjected to that tactic and that the torture includes far more than just waterboarding.
This is not only a historical disgrace for the US and the responsible officials, but, as the New York Times article on this report inadvertently suggests, also shames two other institutions:
(1) the New York Times itself, which steadfastly refused to use the word "torture" to describe what was being done (unless it was done by other countries) and continues to justify that refusal through its then-Executive Editor Bill Keller (Andrew Sullivan ably demolishes Keller's reasoning, while the paper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote this week that this choice merits "some institutional soul-searching"); and,The disgrace of the American torture regime falls on Bush officials and secondarily the media and political institutions that acquiesced to it, but the full-scale protection of those war crimes (and the denial of justice to their victims) falls squarely on the Obama administration.
(2) President Obama, who barred all criminal prosecutions for Bush officials and other torturers and thus brazenly violated at least the spirit and probably the letter of the Convention Against Torture. That treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988 (exactly 25 years ago to the day: Happy Anniversary!), compels all signatories who discover credible allegations that government officials have participated or been complicit in torture to "submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution" (Art. 7(1)). It also specifically states that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture" and "an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture" (Art. 2 (2-3)).
Dan Froomkin has more on the significance of this report here. In sum, if you're the NYT or Obama, how do you reconcile your conduct with this establishment finding that it is "indisputable" that the US government, at its highest levels, instituted a worldwide regime of torture?
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
The Bush administration clearly committed war crimes of torture, and the Obama administration has covered it up. Glenn Greenwald: