Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday Food for Thought: Softening Torture

Dan Eggen, writing for the Washington Post on Sunday, uses the term "permissable assaults" in his headline to his story about the newly-released John Yoo torture memo.

Thirty pages into a memorandum discussing the legal boundaries of military interrogations in 2003, senior Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo tackled a question not often asked by American policymakers: Could the president, if he desired, have a prisoner's eyes poked out?

Or, for that matter, could he have "scalding water, corrosive acid or caustic substance" thrown on a prisoner? How about slitting an ear, nose or lip, or disabling a tongue or limb? What about biting?

These assaults are all mentioned in a U.S. law prohibiting maiming, which Yoo parsed as he clarified the legal outer limits of what could be done to terrorism suspects as detained by U.S. authorities. The specific prohibitions, he said, depended on the circumstances or which "body part the statute specifies."

But none of that matters in a time of war, Yoo also said, because federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes by military interrogators are trumped by the president's ultimate authority as commander in chief.

Eggen notes this "dry discussion", as he phrases it but also adds, "No maiming is known to have occurred in U.S. interrogations".

Tell that to Maher Arar, Omar Khadr and several other prisoners of the Bush administration who have lived to tell of their torture. And it is torture. The use of the word "maiming", along with the word "assault" only serves to soften the offences that Yoo attempted to minimize on behalf of the bloodthirsty, fearful, and paranoid administration. Parsing words in the legal sense is only presented by Yoo in order to circumvent the relevant Geneva Conventions which prohibit such abhorrent treatment of prisoners while the passage of the 2006 Military Commissions Act, supported by some so-called Democrats in the house and senate, granted CIA interrogators immunity from prosecution for torture - a blank slate to continue at will no matter who succeeds Bush.

There was a huge public outcry following the airing of the Abu Ghraib torture photos but it seems the American public has simply given up on the idea of prosecuting the Bush administration for its war crimes. The fact that the release of the latest Yoo memo was just another 30-second story in the MSM last week shows the world that there is no longer any mainstream interest in what is the worst kind of inhumanity (along with the placing of the killings of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis during the illegal occupation on the back burner while too many Americans are much too eager to believe that the so-called surge is actually working.)

Horror has become commonplace.

The Bush administration years are a textbook case on how totalitarianism is allowed to take root in a nation. Very simply, a compliant public surrenders.

Bush's biggest war hasn't been the so-called war against terror. It has been, instead, the war against domestic rebellion in the Unites States in the face of his dictatorial power grabs. And he has succeeded.

Through his application of the unitary executive theory, the rights-suppressing Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, invasion of privacy, relentless fear mongering and his willingness to detain people without due process while justifying the circumvention of the most basic human and civil rights with the help of lawyers like John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales, the message George W Bush has sent is clear: he is the law.

Meanwhile, the American citizenry has decided to just wait him out - hoping that a new administration will not retain or add to the powers Bush has declared to be within the scope of the presidency. A dangerous gamble, no doubt, no matter who wins the White House. The balance among the three branches of the US government has shifted to the point that there is no longer, for all practical purposes, any way to ensure accountability. Who can the people trust when the Democrats refused to even attempt to impeach anyone in the face of such obvious crimes? No one.

So that's where America stands today - waiting to move on from these horrors while having no concrete assurances that that will even take place. And it's the waiting and the silence that are the problems. As Benjamin Franklin declared and as we are so often reminded: "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."

And those who refuse to stand up to their government when it tortures get exactly the government they deserve. Waiting solves nothing and turning a blind eye is cowardice.

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