The Torture Memos Released

President Obama did the right thing by releasing the Bush Justice Department memos providing a legal justification of torture and in deciding not to prosecute the interregators.  The ones who should be prosecuted are the memo writers who, rather than upholding the Constitution, international law, and basic American values, caved in to people like Vice President Cheney – and perhaps even Cheney, Rice, Rumfeld and Bush.

In his statement accompanying the release, President Obama said

The Department of Justice will today release certain memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 as part of an ongoing court case. These memos speak to techniques that were used in the interrogation of terrorism suspects during that period, and their release is required by the rule of law.

My judgment on the content of these memos is a matter of record. In one of my very first acts as President, I prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques by the United States because they undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer. Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.

The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.

It will no doubt be argued that this may, in fact, leave President Bush and other high ranking members of his administration open to prosecution in international criminal courts such as the one in Spain which as already begun an inquiry.  These, memos, people will argue, only add fuel to the fire.  We can’t have our elected officials held accountable for actions they thought were legal they will argue.

To them I say:  The high ranking officials in Hitler’s government also thought they were acting under the cover of law.  Maybe they didn’t have Justice Department lawyers writing the justifications, but those brought to trial at Nuremburg did not believe they had done anything wrong either.    This is why we now have United Nations Convention on Torture

  1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

  1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
  2. 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.
  3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

I haven’t read the entire test of the memos, but did not we commit war crimes?  Certainly the international agreement about torture was violated.

If we are a great nation, and I believe we are, we must lead not only by words, but also deeds.  I understand the political reasons why President Obama cannot be seen as bringing members of the previous administration to trial, but I see no reason why others, like Congress,  cannot do the ground work and present evidence to prosecutors and the courts.  It is probably better to do it ourselves than to leave it to Spain. 

At the very least, none of those Bush officials can travel outside of the United States without risking arrest.  Oh, I forgot, they better not set foot in Vermont either.

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