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Saturday, 25 April 2009

is your ass covered?

I pulled this the other day, but Jon Stewart says it better than I ever could, and with more humour, so here it is again, with Mr. Stewart added. Thanks to Antony Loewenstein posting the clip, which was where I first saw it. The rest of the writing and quoting is mine, kinda (in that the quotes aren't mine, but I'm sure you get what I mean).

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
A Brief History of Torture
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Glenn Greenwald, again. I really admire his writing, dedication and thoroughness. This is on President Obama's announcement last week
that he opposes prosecutions of CIA officials who tortured detainees in reliance on OLC [Offiice of Legal Counsel] memos purporting to legalize that conduct (a decision which is not Obama's to make),
'realisation' of which seems to be why he has changed his tune on the situation. Greenwald says
the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, announced that Obama's policy of immunizing CIA torturers violates international law and, specifically, the clear obligations of the U.S. under the Convention Against Torture (signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988)

This morning, I conducted a 20-minute interview with Nowak . . . regarding the specific legal obligations of the U.S. to provide accountability for crimes of torture; how Obama's invocation of the "state secrets privilege" to block torture victims from having a day in court independently violates the Convention; and the detrimental impact that will result for the U.N.'s ability to hold torturers around the world accountable (which is Nowak's prime mandate) if the U.S. announces to the world that its own political leaders who systematically ordered torture will be shielded from all accountability.
The above and final two paragraphs quoted in this post below, from the article, is true. The United Nations is definitely being undermined as seen by Jewish peace group, MuzzleWatch's reporting on the Durban II conference, and once we are without the Geneva Convention, without the United Nations, what do we have? I am not convinced that it is 'Islamic extremists' (though they do exist, along with a whole bevy of other extremists) who are steering us into another dark age. I don't know if the crimes carried out by the west will ever come home to roost in the constant and terrifying way in which we often seem to inflict them (not to say we are responsible for all the crime and terror around the world), but if torture is condoned (and not holding those who have committed torture, and even more so ordered its implementation, responsible is a form of condoning) then the very idea of being compassionate and democratic nations, with equal rights for all, is false. No big surprise there, really, though.

Greenwald cites International law professor, Kevin John Heller who provides an example of a
set of prosecutions by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, as part of The Ministries Case, in which German officials were prosecuted for doing nothing other than stating, when asked, that they had no objection to the deportation of 5,000 Jews from France. Those officials, who were convicted at Nuremberg, did not order the deportation or carry it out; rather, they merely failed, when asked, to object to the policy on the ground that it violated international law.
In harsh war times, when people are under draconian governments and military systems, and when they fear for their lives if they do not follow an order, I do not hold that they should automatically be held responsible for crimes that they have committed, particularly when the case is comply or yourself be subject to harsh punishment, or loss of life, by your own government or institution, but, though the destruction of the twin towers was and is a frightening act of terror, as were the other acts committed on that day, was the U.S. living under a similar, daily, constant cloud of actual violence all throughout Bush's two terms? Likewise, if a CIA official refused his or her orders to torture, would they themselves be subject to great punishment? I know a paper trail was being left (though I'm not sure if it was by the CIA, rather, maybe is was the FBI), as some were very uncomfortable with the acts they were being asked to carry out, and who knows in which ways the government and the CIA really interact?

According to an interview conducted in the 2005 PBS Torture Question documentary with anti-torture author Mark Danner on this actual paper trail, Colin Powell thought it was a
". . .mistake to withhold Geneva Conventions protection; [as it would] put American soldiers at risk." And it [would] also -- and he said this very prophetically -- lead to the degradation of good order and discipline within the American military. He wrote this; he said it. And you see the attitude coming back in the other memos from Alberto Gonzales, from the Department of Justice, essentially saying, "Look, this isn't what we're worried about right now; what we're worried about is getting rapid interrogations." They don't precisely say that, but fighting a new kind of war, a "new paradigm," as Gonzales said. ...
Later, the interviewer states So they become sort of cover-your-ass memos, and Danner concurs:
I think so. Well, there's something more than what might be called cover-your-ass memos. They're also developing a kind of legal justification that permeates throughout the government. You see, for example, in the torture memo, August 2002, huge chunks of that memo were incorporated in the working group on interrogation the following spring that Secretary of Defense [Donald] Rumsfeld organized within the Department of Defense ... so that you have the legal theory being developed and then being incorporated into the military's planning documents.

It's in some ways the miracle of the word processor. You see these things, and there they are, the same paragraphs. So they raced around the government, and you can find them in very many places, not just in the Department of Justice.
Whether these are the same memos or not, they definitely deal with the same moral concept, and with the legalisation of human rights abuses. The type of legal justification referred to above is what is being called on as a defense by the OLC lawyers as referred to by Greenwald below.
Obviously, with the most powerful military in the world, the U.S. has the power to declare itself exempt from international law and to refuse to adhere to its own treaty obligations. We have the power (as distinct from the right) to ignore what the U.N. says about what we do and to refuse to abide by the standards we impose on others. Indeed, that the U.S. can legalize the very same methods that we have long condemned as "torture" when used by other countries was exactly the core argument made by OLC lawyers to justify what they were doing.

But those who spent the last eight years criticizing the Bush administration for ignoring international conventions and legal obligations -- yet who now want to refrain from investigating Bush crimes -- should at least try to reconcile those past criticisms with their current unilateralist, exceptionalism-based arguments against holding our own criminals accountable (
it's different when we do it). And if this is the mentality we're going to adopt -- that we're not bound by our own treaty obligations and need not pay any heed to U.N. positions -- then we probably shouldn't expect that we'll be taken very seriously when we point to international obligations and U.N. pronouncements as a means for claiming that other countries are acting wrongfully.
One has to say about the United States, though, and hopefully Australia, and many other western countries, too, that this information does become available, and that people may have their careers ruined writing about it, or may have their careers enhanced, but, by and large, they do not face the same degree of suppression that human rights activists in many countries in the world do. This, I think, is to be admired. And allowing other countries and people to choose their own governments, and to live their own lives, and to encourage freedom of speech and lifestyle choice and religious choice, is really the view I would prefer the rest of the world have of my country, rather than as it being a supporter of torture, and an actor and upholder in the denial of rights to others. And I know Australia is not the U.S., yet David Hicks was a long time in coming home, and Mamdouh Habib has said that ASIO were implicit in his arrest, detention and torture. Additionally, Rudd's relationship with the U.S. is little changed from Howard's. The greater world is far more aware of the west as influencing global events, than the general populous of the west is aware of how its governments affect the lives of others.

All of the links in the Greenwald quotes are in the original document.

Here is a link to the Office of Legal Counsel memos.

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this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr