Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Of Torture, Garlic, and Vampires

Discussing a new documentary about torture at Abu Ghraib, Frank Rich observes that “Iraq is to moviegoers what garlic is to vampires.”
This is not merely a showbiz phenomenon but a leading indicator of where our entire culture is right now. It’s not just torture we want to avoid. Most Americans don’t want to hear, see or feel anything about Iraq, whether they support the war or oppose it. They want to look away, period, and have been doing so for some time.
Are you tired of looking away?

On Friday morning, I wrote a piece titled,
Verschärfte Vernehmung Revisited, on the Bush administration’s authorization of torture. I did not write it with glee (“Look, I’m right!”); I was sad, angry, and ashamed that my country had copied and approved for use a torture policy adopted by Nazis in 1937 and approved it for use by the CIA. Friday night, in a national television interview on ABC News, President Bush directly admitted that the White House was deeply involved in decisions about the CIA’s use of torture.

Bush’s admission came after
ABC News first broke the story that members of the Bush administration including Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and George Tenet met regularly and approved the CIA’s use of “combined” “enhanced” interrogation techniques -- tactics that amount to torture. It was about those meetings that then Attorney General Ashcroft said in one of them: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly." I can’t imagine that Ashcroft is surprised to know that there would be demands for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate these decisions, as the ACLU did Monday afternoon.
Congress should long ago have gotten to the bottom of which top officials approved, condoned and authorized U.S. involvement in torture. But, now that the President has admitted to a policy of top-down torture, the ACLU is calling on Congress to demand an independent prosecutor to investigate possible violations of the War Crimes Act, the federal Anti-Torture Act and federal assault laws.
President Bush and his administration claim that such the “terrorist threat” justified the use of such methods and makes himself and his administration immune from prosecution.
Sunday evening on CNN’s “
Compassion Forum,” Senator Obama was asked about the torture memos:
This one said that not even interrogation methods that, quote, "shock the conscience" would be considered torture nor would they be considered illegal if they had been authorized by the president. Senator Obama, this kind of reasoning shocks the conscience of many millions of Americans and many millions of people of faith here and around the world. Is there justification for policies on the part of our nation that permit physical and mental cruelty toward those who are in our custody?
This was Obama’s unequivocal response:
We have to be clear and unequivocal. We do not torture, period. We don't torture. (APPLAUSE) Our government does not torture. That should be our position. That should be our position. That will be my position as president. That includes, by the way, renditions. We don't farm out torture. We don't subcontract torture. (APPLAUSE) And the reason this is important is not only because torture does not end up yielding good information -- most intelligence officers agree with that. I met with a group -- a distinguished group of former generals who have made it their mission to travel around and talk to presidential candidates and to talk in forums about how this degrades the discipline and the ethos of our military.
His answer made me proud to be supporting him for the office of President. If you were wondering what Hillary Clinton’s answer to this question was when she was interviewed earlier, the answer is she didn’t get the question. Her answers to the questions were so lengthy that they didn’t get to ask the question about torture.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, Obama wasn’t President during 9/11 and hasn’t President Bush has said repeatedly that the use of such methods might save hundreds or thousands of innocent people.” I have a story. Please bear with me.

Looking Back:

In my lifetime, there may be no one who struggled with the questions of violence and valuing human life more than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When Hitler took power in Germany in the 1930s, this brilliant scholar left the security of the United States to return to his own country where he became one of the leaders of German Christians who refused to accept Hitler's doctrines of National Socialism and even entered into an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer was arrested, kept in prison, and executed in April 1945, just before the Allies liberated the area where he was imprisoned.

Bonhoeffer's expertise as a theologian was in the area of Christian ethics ("ethics" is the study of values and principles that guide one's actions). His "valuing of life" led him to the conclusion that killing Hitler would save many lives. What you may not know is that Bonhoeffer never expected to receive immunity for his act. Even more than the State, Bonhoeffer feared God, as he once confessed to a friend, "I know that I may burn in hell for this action." Even for participating in an act to kill the “terrorist” Adolph Hitler, Bonhoeffer did not seek immunity from the law. If he lived long enough, he expected to have to answer for his actions in a court of law.

Should not the Bush administration have to answer in a court for its decision to torture?

As I wrote on Friday morning, I don’t think we can wait for a new administration; nor will another administration led by a different party be enough regain what has been lost of the American soul or re-establish credibility with our friends and enemies.

Monday afternoon, I joined an effort demanding that my members of Congress support strenuous efforts, including the appointment of an independent prosecutor, to hold President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and other high-ranking officials accountable for their role in crafting torture policy.

I did not take the decision lightly because I don’t know what an American public that wants to “look away” from all this unpleasantness will do if a prosecutor is appointed and begins work. I don’t know what it will mean for the presidential election.

If you are tired of “looking away” and want to do something about it, I think the ACLU’s proposed action is the first step. To take action, follow the link below.

- Milo


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