Friday, June 26, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Once Again, The Rule Of Law Is Invoked
Let's Hold Bush officials accountable for torture
The ACLU's executive director joins with a military officer to ask for a special prosecutor for torture
By Anthony Romero and Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld
Jun. 17, 2009 |
Torture is a crime and the United States engaged in it. Those are two indisputable facts. Given the mountains of evidence already in the public domain, any effort to deny or soften that harsh and devastating reality is either disingenuous, uninformed or a result of the human instinct to avoid painful truths. But one of the things that allows our democracy to endure is that time after time, no matter the misdeed, we have been willing to look ourselves in the mirror, acknowledge our wrongdoing and hold ourselves accountable.
Both of the authors of this piece chose professions devoted to protecting democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law. One of us is an Army prosecutor who resigned from six pending Guantánamo cases due to ethical failings of the tribunal system, and the other is the leader of the premier civil liberties organization in the U.S. We both understand that the process of self-examination and accountability has been, and remains, the only way to move forward and regain our moral and legal grounding.
To date, the evidence that U.S. officials engaged in widespread and systemic torture and abuse of detainees with the authorization of the highest Bush administration officials comes from a wide range of sources. There are congressional reports, journalistic investigations, detainees’ own accounts, and even -- astonishingly -- boastful admissions by some of the highest officials of the Bush administration, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been aggressively forthright in his defense of torture methods including waterboarding. An ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit has also produced more than 100,000 pages of revealing government documents, including the now well-known Justice Department memos laying out the legal framework for the Bush administration’s torture policies. And despite President Obama’s unfortunate decision to reverse his administration’s earlier intention to order their release, we know there are thousands of photographs depicting detainee abuse in overseas prisons beyond Abu Ghraib. While likely to be disturbing -- as they should be -- these images of human brutality would serve to confirm the pervasive and orchestrated nature of these crimes.
But notwithstanding all this evidence that domestic and international laws were violated, there are still those who would reduce these crimes to discretionary policy decisions subject to legitimate debate. There is even a robust public discussion about whether "torture works" -- a jaw-dropping debate to be having in the United States of America -- as if that could be reliably determined, and as if that would make it OK.
This cannot be the way forward in a country committed to the rule of law that applies to everyone, regardless of status or position. We have a Department of Justice for a reason, and now it’s up to Attorney General Holder, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, to do his job and appoint an independent prosecutor to follow the evidence where it may lead. In this country, we investigate crimes and, when appropriate, we prosecute them. Once we start compromising our principles and laws because it is too messy, too inconvenient or even too painful to enforce them, we render them meaningless. This is not a political issue, but a moral and legal one.
To date, the highest-ranking officer to be prosecuted for detainee abuse is a lieutenant colonel who was acquitted by a court-martial panel. Yet there is simply too much evidence of high-level orders and authorization for the use of torture and abuse to justify limiting criminal investigations to those in the field. What does it say about our commitment to justice when we are willing to sacrifice a few at the bottom but unwilling to hold accountable those at the top? When we are willing to prosecute military personnel but not the civilian officials and contractors who were also part of this horrific enterprise? What kind of legacy does that leave for future generations, and future administrations, when it comes to the consequences of those in power breaking the law?
There are some who might find it surprising to be hearing from the two of us together -- a civil libertarian and an Army officer. But to us, the fit is quite natural. While having taken different paths, we have both sought the same destination: the preservation of American values, the rule of law and human rights. Without accountability, we cannot preserve those ideals. Without holding ourselves to the standards we wish to impose on others, we cannot move forward and we cannot hold ourselves out as a nation that adheres to a legal and moral code of conduct. It is critical that we hold accountable those who authorized, those who legally sanctioned and those who implemented the torture policies of one of the darkest periods in our nation’s history. What is at stake is nothing less than our democracy.
-- By Anthony Romero and Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Krugman Gets It Right
The Big Hate
Back in April, there was a huge fuss over an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security warning that current conditions resemble those in the early 1990s — a time marked by an upsurge of right-wing extremism that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Conservatives were outraged. The chairman of the Republican National Committee denounced the report as an attempt to “segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration” and label them as terrorists.
But with the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion fanatic, closely followed by a shooting by a white supremacist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the analysis looks prescient.
There is, however, one important thing that the D.H.S. report didn’t say: Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.
Now, for the most part, the likes of Fox News and the R.N.C. haven’t directly incited violence, despite Bill O’Reilly’s declarations that “some” called Dr. Tiller “Tiller the Baby Killer,” that he had “blood on his hands,” and that he was a “guy operating a death mill.” But they have gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric, just as they did the last time a Democrat held the White House.
And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.
Exhibit A for the mainstreaming of right-wing extremism is Fox News’s new star, Glenn Beck. Here we have a network where, like it or not, millions of Americans get their news — and it gives daily airtime to a commentator who, among other things, warned viewers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be building concentration camps as part of the Obama administration’s “totalitarian” agenda (although he eventually conceded that nothing of the kind was happening).
But let’s not neglect the print news media. In the Bush years, The Washington Times became an important media player because it was widely regarded as the Bush administration’s house organ. Earlier this week, the newspaper saw fit to run an opinion piece declaring that President Obama “not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself,” and that in any case he has “aligned himself” with the radical Muslim Brotherhood.
And then there’s Rush Limbaugh. His rants today aren’t very different from his rants in 1993. But he occupies a different position in the scheme of things. Remember, during the Bush years Mr. Limbaugh became very much a political insider. Indeed, according to a recent Gallup survey, 10 percent of Republicans now consider him the “main person who speaks for the Republican Party today,” putting him in a three-way tie with Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich. So when Mr. Limbaugh peddles conspiracy theories — suggesting, for example, that fears over swine flu were being hyped “to get people to respond to government orders” — that’s a case of the conservative media establishment joining hands with the lunatic fringe.
It’s not surprising, then, that politicians are doing the same thing. The R.N.C. says that “the Democratic Party is dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals.” And when Jon Voight, the actor, told the audience at a Republican fund-raiser this week that the president is a “false prophet” and that “we and we alone are the right frame of mind to free this nation from this Obama oppression,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, thanked him, saying that he “really enjoyed” the remarks.
Credit where credit is due. Some figures in the conservative media have refused to go along with the big hate — people like Fox’s Shepard Smith and Catherine Herridge, who debunked the attacks on that Homeland Security report two months ago. But this doesn’t change the broad picture, which is that supposedly respectable news organizations and political figures are giving aid and comfort to dangerous extremism.
What will the consequences be? Nobody knows, of course, although the analysts at Homeland Security fretted that things may turn out even worse than in the 1990s — that thanks, in part, to the election of an African-American president, “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.”And that’s a threat to take seriously. Yes, the worst terrorist attack in our history was perpetrated by a foreign conspiracy. But the second worst, the Oklahoma City bombing, was perpetrated by an all-American lunatic. Politicians and media organizations wind up such people at their, and our, peril.