Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Torture: Oh yeah, that other scandal!

Many in the Notre Dame community (and those who think they are in it… *cough* Cardinal Newman Society *cough*) have been debating the validity of the President of the United States attending this year’s commencement because of his views on abortion. I think that debate has received quite enough attention by now, but what about the many other values we as Catholics and Americans hold dear? Where is the outrage about the way we treat our fellow human beings—you know, the one’s who have already been born? I’m specifically referring to the endorsement of torture as official United States policy under the Bush administration.

For decades Americans have prided themselves on being an example of a moral, just and civilized society that adheres to the rule of law. At the end of the second World War the U.S. participated in the prosecution of Nazis and Japanese war criminals who engaged in tactics that were clearly defined as torture, but what our last administration would refer to as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The previous administration defends the use of these “techniques” (which I will from here on refer to by the appropriate word, TORTURE) as being essential to the security of the country. Former Vice President Dick “Go Fuck Yourself” Cheney even went on CNN last week to continue these claims and even go on to suggest that President Obama has made the country less safe by refusing to continue these practices and by ordering the closing of Guantanamo Bay.

Well, on the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post, staff writers Peter Finn and Jody Warrick poured a nice tall glass of Shut The Fuck Up for the former VP and sadistic torture loving Republicans everywhere. The article debunks the idea that torture has produced effective results or prevented any attacks after 9/11, specifically addressing the complete ineffectiveness of the interrogation of the Bush administration’s oft touted poster-child for the necessity of torture, Abu Zubaida. This article does not merely report that torturing Abu Zubaida produced no new results, but that it produced false intelligence (something one would think the last administration would be a bit more careful about).
"We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms” one former intelligence official said.
So while Dick and his fellow sadists were getting their rocks off by shocking the rocks off of prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Grahib, and various other CIA “black sites,” America was rendered less safe—wasting precious time and resources scouring the planet in wild goose chases to track down leads that Zubaida made up so that he would stop being tortured.

Ineffectiveness aside, the fact that the U.S. embraced torture as official policy was a moral travesty. It will likely take at least a decade, if not longer, to regain our respect in the international community, and our nation’s reputation will be permanently stained. The torture that has taken place by the U.S. government over the last eight years is also an obvious violation of the doctrine of Just War Theory as held by the Catholic Church. I’m not a big fan of Just War Theory. The evolution of this mode of thinking as developed by Augustine and Aquinas became the basis for international law regarding war, and as such I think it serves a purpose. Though as a doctrine of Christianity I think it is a perversion of the original purpose of the religion, a way of rationalizing the use of violence by a “legitimate authority” that suddenly became beneficial when Christians stopped being fed to lions and instead became members of the mainstream religion of the Roman Empire. While I don’t think this way of thinking should be accepted by the Church, I do think that as the basis of secular international law of war is concerned, it is a way to minimize the effects of the sins of politicians on the masses.

The use of torture contradicts one of the key principles of the conduct of war (jus in bello) as per Just War Theory. This principle—that all legal rights of enemy soldiers and civilians must be honored—has been violated in numerous ways throughout the conduct of the Iraq War. So of all the things for Catholics to be in an uproar about lately, one might think this would be somewhere at the top of the list.

Aside from being ineffective, immoral and contradictory to Church doctrine, torture also has the problem of being illegal. As Just War principles became indoctrinated into international law over the years, they became the standard by which nations were expected the abide by, and the criminality of torture is clearly outlined in the Geneva Conventions and other internationally recognized documents and treaties as well. It was also recognized as illegal per U.S. law before the Bush administration hired itself some Orwellian wordsmiths to tinker with Pentagon policies and issue legal memos redefining torture and various techniques that fall under that description, so they could be considered legal. Of course, just because you say the sky isn’t blue doesn’t make it so. Many civil rights activists are urging the Obama administration to investigate and prosecute the policymakers who knowingly broke the law in issuing orders to torture. Law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University has been one of the most outspoken advocates for this.

But it looks like the U.S. may get beaten to the punch. A human rights lawyer in Spain has brought a complaint against six former high-ranking Bush administration officials: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Undersecretary for Defense Douglas Feith, VP Cheney’s COS David Addington, Justice Department officials John Yoo and James Bybee, and Pentagon Lawyer William Haynes. The most interesting part of this article from the Washington Post is this:
Spanish law gives its courts jurisdiction beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes, based on a doctrine known as universal justice
Imagine for a moment, the ramification of if the Spanish court issues an indictment. These high-profile individuals would be subject to arrest and trial before an international tribunal should they ever again set foot outside the country! Frankly, I think this needs to be done. However, the Obama administration would be wise to take the lead on this.

President Obama has signaled that while he condemns the use of torture he would like his administration to “look forward.” Well, look forward a few years to when Spain isn’t the only country pressing for indictments of Bush administration officials for the crimes they committed. The United States would be put in the incredibly awkward position of openly preventing the arrest of indicted war criminals. Even if the Obama administration was to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, that would be a very dangerous political move. I can see the FOX “News” reels now: “Obama cedes U.S. sovereignty to Europe! Everyone quick, head to your local gun store!” It would actually be less politically risky in my opinion, for President Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate all allegations of torture by top Bush administration officials and prosecute them domestically. This will not be an easy task, but it will be far easier than cooperating with the ICC, or turning a completely blind eye and looking like the U.S. only cares about international law when other nations break it.

All Americans should be disgusted and embarrassed by the behavior of this small group of neo-cons who knowingly broke the law and dragged the good name of our country through the mud. The President should order the investigation of these crimes sooner rather than later. Both legally and morally, it is the right thing to do.