President Barack Obama’s key rallying message for re-election is “Forward,” as in his purported revival of the economy and promised expanding and fortifying of health care. But in response to those who insist on accountability for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s torture and other war crimes, Obama has said repeatedly that so much needs to be done ahead, so he will not turn back.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) reported that on May 21, the president was backed by a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, whose range includes New York, when it ruled that the Obama government can keep secret the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding, which makes a terror suspect believe he will soon be drowned if he does not quickly say what the CIA wants him to say (“Federal appeals court rules government may withhold CIA interrogation, waterboarding records,” Amanda Simmons, www.rcfp.org, May 22).
And, indeed, the lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Physicians for Human Rights, the Center for Constitutional Rights and others demanded CIA records of waterboarding, including a photo of the detainee (aka prisoner), Abu Zubaydah, while he was being waterboarded – at least 83 enhanced times – by the CIA.
The plaintiffs also wanted to find out more about two memoranda written by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel that assured Bush and future presidents that these remorseless interrogations were certainly within the American rule of law.
These memoranda are disdainfully known around the world as “the torture memos.”
The Bush and Obama administrations have long been righteously assuring their critics at home and abroad that the “sources and methods” by which the United States guards its national security must remain classified.
According to the Reporters Committee story, former CIA Director Leon Panetta (now secretary of defense) claimed “that the photograph of Zubaydah contained ‘TOP SECRET operational information concerning’ his interrogation.”
Gee, we wouldn’t want inexperienced enemies to know how to nearly smother persons to death.
The 2nd Circuit solemnly “agreed with the government that it was exempt from disclosure under FOIA (the Freedom of Information Act) as the photo was a record related to intelligence sources or methods.”
And, dig this, these three elevated interpreters of our Constitution, wanting to give Obama and his Justice Department an extra pat on the back, actually wrote: “(W)e observe that a photograph depicting a person in CIA custody discloses far more than the person’s identity.”
It sure does. It discloses every twinge of shock and pain, the grinding fear and suffering as the “detainee” is condemned for what he has allegedly done or intended to do to undermine our national security.
Did the CIA first take him to court so he could argue to see the evidence against him? Come on – whether Zubaydah was snatched from a field of battle or was nowhere near one, international treaties and American anti-torture laws have been routinely suspended by U.S. presidents and courts (www.rcfp.org).
As I and others have reported, Bush, supported by his Justice Department’s torture memos and the highest levels of his administration, had no difficulty admitting he dutifully told the CIA to go ahead with enhanced interrogation techniques.
And while Obama did issue an executive order in 2009 banning waterboarding as a technique for intelligence gathering, that move turned out to be for show – like his transiently heartfelt pledge at the start of his tenure that his administration would be the most transparent in our history.
Speaking of transparency, if you’d like to find out what Abu Zubaydah has to say about his never-to-be-forgotten CIA experiences, you’ll have to wait, probably until the end of hostilities, because he is still being detained indefinitely (“Memorial for America’s Conscience,” Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, salon.com, May 24).
In their Salon article, Moyers and Winship go on to ask a question that I will bet my farm, if I had one, won’t be asked by either side before the November elections – or after:
“In future days and years, how will we come to cope with the reality of what we have done in the name of security?”
More and more Americans, however, will confront themselves with Moyers and Winship’s assertions:
“Many other societies do seem to try harder than we do to come to terms with horrendous behavior commissioned or condoned by a government.
“Beginning in 1996, in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held hearings at which whites and blacks struggled to confront the cruelty inflicted on human beings during apartheid.”
Meanwhile, on May 11, as reported on jurist.org, a University of Pittsburgh law school site I visit daily: “The Malaysian Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalize War (KLFCW) … found former U.S. President George W. Bush and seven administration officials guilty of war crimes after a symbolic trial.
“The five-member tribunal convicted Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and several other administration officials of torture and war crimes.”
I don’t think any of them will be traveling to Malaysia soon. They’ll be welcome elsewhere. But maybe not by American and world history.