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Mixed Messages On Torture Policy

Mixed Messages On Torture Policy

The Obama administration continues its measured approach to rectifying the harms caused by Bush administration torture policy.  Late last week the administration asked the Supreme Court to hear its appeal of a Second Circuit order requiring the release of photos depicting the abuse and torture of prisoners held in U.S. custody overseas.  Originally the Obama administration indicated it would not appeal the order, but then changed course shortly before the disclosure deadline.

On the heels of the requested review comes news that Attorney General Holder is close to naming a special prosecutor to investigate CIA treatment of detainees.  According to sources for the Los Angeles Times, Attorney General Holder is reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that a criminal investigation is in order.  The apparent change of heart came once he read a still-classified 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general detailing extensive problems and abuses in the agency’s interrogation program, most notably those areas involving waterboarding.

What to make of these apparent mixed signals?  On the one hand, the request for review of the Second Circuit order should come as no surprise, even considering earlier Department of Justice statements suggesting they would abide by the order.  More likely than not the Department of Justice has measured its likelihood of success on any appeal and has set expectations low.  The Second Circuit order left very little, if any, wiggle room on appeal.  But, by requesting the review, even if the request is denied, the administration has bought some time.

And time might just be what Attorney General Holder is after if the Los Angeles Times report is correct.  Both President Obama and Attorney General Holder are on record as having grave concerns that a special investigator would be perceived as political payback.  Neither men want to set the stage for future investigations of outgoing administrations, but both are in the sticky political position of stating unequivocally that waterboarding amounts to torture.  With the existence of definitive proof that the U.S. waterboarded prisoners, and with evidence mounting that the order to waterboard came directly from the Executive branch–most likely straight from Vice President Dick Cheney– the Obama administration may not have any choice but to launch such an investigation.  If an appeal of the Second Circuit order can keep photographic evidence of detainee abuse at bay, even temporarily, Attorney General Holder may have enough time to shore up the scope of an investigation without compromising any possible future criminal charges.

If the months since January have showed us anything, it is that every move the Obama administration makes comes after careful legal and political analysis, and the push towards a special prosecutor to investigate U.S. war crimes is no exception.  Let’s hope that reasoned legal analysis, rather than political pressure, continues to prevail and an investigation commences.  In the meantime we can take this recent request for review with a grain of salt and bide our time so that, once and for all, we can account for the crimes of our past.
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photo courtesy of Saharauick via Flickr

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30 comments

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10:10PM PDT on Aug 12, 2009

Michael,

I'm thinking about your analogy of the upset child. It is true that it can help to solve problems if you get "down to their level." However, in this case, it means "get down from your position of superiority and interact with them and discover their true needs" rather than "throw a tantrum yourself."

I believe that one key to effective terrorism prevention is to talk to the potential recruits (in this case, disaffected Muslims), to get them to realize that you aren't their enemy, and that they have no reason to listen to the extremists who offer them a target for their greivances.

8:00PM PDT on Aug 12, 2009

Michael S. you and everyone condoning the use of torture have betrayed our country and our country's principles. And Gorillas probably have a greater sense of humanity. The word your looking for is "Guerilla". Dee dee DEE!

7:55PM PDT on Aug 12, 2009

Please support HR104 to hold Bush & Cheney accountable, that's one way to do it:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/support-hr104---establish-a-commission-to-investigate-policies-of-the-bush-administration

3:22PM PDT on Aug 12, 2009

Sir Walk;
History unless my mind has gone totally feeble has shown. You can not fight a conventional war when you are being attacked by someone fight and using Gorilla Tactic's. And yet on another plain a child is upset and crying you ask what's the matter and get a shake of the head. But get down on to their level of play and play with the toys their playing with and ask that same question you will get an answer. Point is sometimes you have to take it to a level your opponent or a child can relate to.

3:11PM PDT on Aug 12, 2009

William;
Your points are duelly noted and recognised. And keeping it civil is the only way to keep it. In closing I'd like to add acouple thoughts to the mixing pot. Theres an old saying that goes "When in Rome. Do as the Romans do" Gorilla WarFare is not one of this country's strong points but we have fought it and had to drop to a mind set that allowed us to think as they did.

2:19PM PDT on Aug 12, 2009

Michael S.

In my opinion, it is not our wealth that they object to. It is some of the ways in which America has used its wealth and power. For example, to overthrow governments (even democratically elected ones), to maintain a military presence in the muslim world (which is a particularly strong recruiting tool as occupation by foreign powers is mentioned many times as a grave wrong in the Qur'an), etc.

For the most part, these activities are ones which, if practiced by a country other than the United States would be considered acts of war. The general term for this behavior is American Exceptionalism.

I'd like to see a less Exceptionalism, although that in no way justifies the terrorists, nor diminishes our right to capture and try them as either enemy soldiers OR criminals.

For a more coherent analysis than can be presented in this format, I'd recommend "What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat" by Louise Richardson.

Finally, I'd like you to try to see this from the point of view of any of the people in Guantanamo who were innocent of all wrongdoing(even the Bush administration admitted there were many).

Finally, I want to send thanks to you and Steven for keeping this discourse civil.

1:54PM PDT on Aug 12, 2009

Steve;
To be a little more percise. They hate us because as we climbed in wealth and world statis they declined and feel if they knock us down a few rungs they will climb back up to where they once stood.

1:41PM PDT on Aug 12, 2009

Tracy althought your thoughts may be true in a rare occurance or two. Not always is this the case. They are held and know if things do not check out someone will be back to start all over again. Physcologically speaking this will bring the truth to the surface eventually.

8:45AM PDT on Aug 12, 2009

Hi Steven,

When you say "They used tactics specifically forbidden...." are you referring to the 9/11 hijackers (none of which went to Guantanamo, obviously). Are you referring to people we had credible evidence were planning to do such a thing (I have no doubt some people in Guantanamo fit that description, but what was the point in torturing them -- it certainly doesn't seem the most promising way to convince them that we aren't their enemy). And what do you do about the innocent people who were swept up? To torture them makes no sense at all.

"There is no law anywhere that says we owe these individuals a trial by our laws."

I beg to differ. Holding these people indefinitely without recourse to the courts has been ruled on -- Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

"Anyone who tells you we can't hold POWs for as long as we have to really needs to read up on how it works. As long as we are in a state of war, which we are, we can hold them. This is in accordance with Geneva Code, btw."

I agree that, instead of the law-enforcement route to justice, we could have gone the military route. However, that still doesn't allow torturing them.

"As for torture and the moral high ground; it has NEVER, NOT ONCE been proven to make a difference in how a captured American overseas is treated."

I wouldn't know how to prove such a thing. To judge from your reaction, the way we treat suspected terrorists is shaped by how they have treated Americans. And it helps them recruit.

8:23AM PDT on Aug 12, 2009

People will do or admit to anything under torture just to make it stop.

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