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Why We Must Investigate Americans Who Used Torture

April 22, 2009

When I was a boy reporters would write from all corners of the earth how homes would have two pictures on the wall. One would be of the Pope, and the other would be President Kennedy.  The world then looked to the United States with hope.  Our efforts through various programs to lift the world, and aspirations of people was applauded. 

When I was a kid it was also only about 20 years after executions had been held for members of the Japanese military following World War II who had used water-boarding as a means of torture, trying to get information from American soldiers.

So much has changed in my lifetime.  Really so much has changed during the past eight years.

President George Bush is not a wall hanging in homes around the world providing hope about American intentions, and this time it is Americans who are conducting the torture.

The recklessness that was crafted into the most bizarre and un-American legal documents justifying torture by the United States is a powerful read.  Sickening.  Depressing.  And yet important for my fellow citizens to wade through.

It was a most correct decision to release these documents, and showcase the level of tortured reasoning by the Bush Administration that led to the destruction of the rule of law that we once held ourselves up to as a nation.    We can no longer say that we are better than other countries who torture.  We aren’t.  We are supposed to be.  But we no longer are.

That is is the rot that now is fact given the reluctance of members of Congress to hold accountable the legal nightmare of plotting, deception, and political ruthlessness while it was happening from President George Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and many top members of the Bush Administration.

There now needs to be accountability for the actions of the past.  History not only deserves a reckoning, but the American soul needs a cleansing.  There can be no more squeamishness from any elected official in Washington, from President Obama right down to freshman members of Congress about the necessity of doing what is right.  The highest ideals of our nation have been broken by lawlessness and extra-constitutional excesses that demand action.

Investigations needs to take place, and those responsible from the lowest perpetrators of torture to the ones who gave the orders and crafted the legal train wreck all need to be held to the strictest laws in the land.  This is not a political show for partisan reasons, for the issue of what America stands for, and how it should serve to shine to others around the globe is bigger than the last election, or the next one.  Instead this reckoning with our past is about who we are, and what we stand for.

If we still stand for anything.  I hope we do.

We must get this right, and hold ourselves to the same light of day that we insist on for others around the world.  It is the first needed step to again place America back where the rule of law is more than words, but actually means something.

Over the past eight years we have left our ideals for the dark side.  President Obama and Congress must undo this crime, and bring those to justice who have broken the laws.  Nothing less is acceptable.

7 Comments
  1. Patrick permalink
    April 23, 2009 4:12 PM

    Mr. Dekerivers:

    I believe that while we might not find consensus on certain issues, I would like you to revisit the idea of the “rule of law” you mention. One tradition of law is that people who have undertaken some act which is later declared illegal cannot be prosecuted under the terms of current law. While my understanding of legal history is somewhat limited, I believe this ideas runs back to the Manga Carta or something like that. Since waterbaording was not illegal at the time it was used and successfully produced information which according to cnbc prevented terrorist attacks on LA in the wake of 911, how are we adhering to the rule of law you so value in going after those who ordered or performed waterboarding?

    I’m also distrubed by the connection you imply between the type of moral equality between Nazi Germany and the Bush administration. Isn’t that type of hyperbole dangerous in that it downplays the deaths of millions of innocent women, men, children whose great crime was their ethnicity? The subjects who were waterboarded were terrorists; there is no doubt about that.

    Your response also mentions a so called “false choice” between rights and national security. But the founding fathers you reference notes that the constitution is not a suicide pact, and that the first responsibility of the government is to protect the nation.

  2. April 23, 2009 1:04 PM

    I am not downplaying the importance of this situation. In some ways I agree with you in regards to the nation of Pakistan.

    I do find it interesting however that you use your moral arguement on other issues of the day, but seem to forgot it when it comes to torture.

  3. Thomas J Canton permalink
    April 23, 2009 12:37 PM

    The Obama administration has declared the Taliban’s advance to within 60 miles of Islamabad, Pakistan to be a “mortal threat” to the world. Note that the Pakistanis aren’t exactly mounting a robust defense to the Taliban onslaught — they’re ceding territory and politely moving out of the way.

    Now this is some scary stuff. Remember, Pakistan has nukes. And if the Taliban gets hold of them, how long do you think it will be before they find their way into the hands of Al Qaeda? And how eager do you think Al Qaeda operatives might be to smuggle a bomb into the United States through a shipping container at our ports?

    Real life situations like this one tend to focus the mind wonderfully on the President’s high-minded denunciation of supposed “torture” by the United States. Would it really be so wrong to waterboard a terrorist detainee if doing so could obtain information that would avert a nuclear attack on, say, Manhattan?

  4. April 23, 2009 11:34 AM

    Patrick,

    Thanks for your comments.

    The damage that torture being used by our country inflicts on us is far more detrimental than whatever ‘good’ comes from it. Those who study and are more clued into these pratices than I am (such as John McCain) argue that the information gleamed as a result of torture is not useful. In addition we all know that the use of torture is one that allows for those who wish to undermine our nation to use this practice as a recruiting tool. Our tactics are a gift that keeps on giving. (Regardless of how we differ on torture that outcome is not something we desire.)

    The thing I guess I am most concerned about is your lack of regard for the ideals of the nation, and the rule of law. At the very heart of the Federalist Papers, or even the personal writings of letters between John and Abigail Adams (you can place any name of the great thinkers of that era here) there is the highest regard for the character of the country that they were in the moment of working to create. There is a reverence for the rule of law, and the construction of a nation whose DNA (if you will) will follow rules of conduct in the affairs of the nation. I am much in agreement with Obama when he states that we should not allow our nation to be forced into a false choice between our national security and our ideals.

    I see the ‘war on terror’ as more a clash of ideas that have huge consequences for the world. And with that as my foundation for understanding the landscape that we now find ourselves, I want to have the best platform avaiable to us in order to push our ideas. We must not be hamstrung by the fact that we preach one set of ideas, and act counter to those words in private. Our ideals must match our actions.

    It is most correct that just as a soul needs washing and reflection, so does the soul of a nation. If you think this is some ‘latte’ thinking, let me remind you of the work Germany had to undertake…still undertaking….to mend the split from humanity during WW II. So when I speak of cleansing the nation, I do not use it lighty. I use it properly, and with history in mind. I also know that we need to move forward in the world of nations, and to show we ‘get it’ when it comes to how the rest of the modern world sees our dual nature on the issue of torture.

    I am not thinking any of this made the mark in regard to your thinking, but it is good I think to give voice to these national needs.

    Again thanks, as always, for commenting. Have a nice day..spring is here!!

  5. Patrick permalink
    April 22, 2009 10:28 PM

    I think you are the one walking down the dark path regarding your desire to investigate and prosecute those who offered legal opinions regarding waterboarding (which I completele support since it apparently works) and those who actually did the waterboarding. In the first case you would seek to ruin citizens who merely offered legal opinions regarding a course of action. Now, I’m not a doctor of Juris Purdence, but calling those commentaries and arguments “a trainwreck” really amounts to saying that you don’t like the opinion. I ask you to consider for a moment the dangerous precedent that would set. Were there, for example, lawyers who advised Clinton before he lied on television? (And I thought people made too big a deal about that whole matter) What about lawyers who might be asked to comment about the legality or morality of actions Obama might see as necessary to preserve the national security? Would they hesitate, wondering how their words might be seen sever years down the road by a conservative president and congress? What about the lawyers arguing his claims about Bagram? Do we string them up too?

    And what about those CIA agents who performed actions they thought were approved by both congress and the administration? Do you want them to live under a cloak of fear wondering when the PC police might appear?

    And finally, if people are now going to be ruined for their legal opinions, opinions offered years ago,shall we begin with Holder who in 2002 said the terrorists were not protected by the geneva conventions (which only nations can be a part of)? Will you then argue so forcefully that Pelosi must be impeached because she was briefed about these activities and allowed them to go on–or even wondered why we weren’t doing more?

    If these legal opinions are targeted for “inspection”, are other legal opinions also suspect? Where does it end?

    Do you honestly believe that these prosecutions would be viewed as fair?

    I understand that waterboarding does not appeal to you. Fine. And those Japanese soldiers you mention were executed for doing far more than waterboarding, by the way. But I think you need to go beyond a few sentimental anecdotes and an emotional dislike for policies approved and overseen by congress and present a logical examination of the actual necessities, benefits, and consequences of the actions you advocate here. Platitudes like “cleanising the soul” are without substance despite how pretty they sound, and these are serious matters.

  6. April 22, 2009 4:26 PM

    I have never let those Democrats who worked for the Iraq War or torture etc. get away with it. You will note Hillary Clinton took a beating here on this blog, as did Joe Lieberman, among others.

    I will also add that there was stonewalling and deception in the Bush White House that made it harder to get all the needed information to the Congress…..such as the just released material clearly shows.

    I agree with you that now is the perfect time to go after the bastards..whoever and whereever they are…as we have a clear path to do so.

  7. Mick permalink
    April 22, 2009 4:04 PM

    Please remember that the congress who was on watch for at least the last four years was democratic in majority. The person leading the armed services committee and leading member of the the Intelligence committee and member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee is sen. carl levin, a democrat in good standing. So, before we get the lynch mob out for all those “Bushites” maybe we should broaden the scope a bit.

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