“These are the times that try men's souls.”
The Crisis—Thomas Paine (1776).
“Pain forces even the innocent to lie.”
Publilius Syrus (1st century B.C.), Roman writer of mimes. Sententiae, no. 171.
“The healthy man does not torture others—generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers.”
Carl Jung (1875–1961), Swiss psychiatrist. “Return to the Simple Life,” in DU, vol. 1 (Zurich, May 1941; reprinted inCollected Works, volume 18, edited by William McGuire).
Why in the world are we even discussing whether or not we should prosecute individuals for the torture and humiliation of detainees in American custody?
If these were American citizens who had been tortured by a foreign government, the hue and cry of the American people for vengeance upon the perpetrators would be loud and unceasing; even if those American citizens had been caught planting weapons of mass destruction on foreign soil.
For the legal system of any nation to work, it must be consistent. If we imprison a Texas sheriff during the Reagan Administration for water boarding his prisoners; if we execute Japanese war criminals for the same offense; if we are signatories to treaties which specifically say water boarding is torture; then we must in good conscience prosecute both the torturers and those who ordered the torture, up to the highest responsible levels.
It seems that there is some underlying fear of what an investigation by a properly constituted legal authority, with the possibility of prosecution, might lead to. Are the President and the rest of Washington so afraid of the CIA and its bureaucracy that they are hesitating to enforce the law? Did some arrogant bastard say to the President, “Mess with us and Dallas can be your last stop.” If so, I have a suggestion that might help.
How about a people's march starting as close to CIA headquarters in Virginia as possible, and ending on the steps of the U.S. Capitol? I think we could get one hundred thousand plus to attend a march of this nature around Labor Day. The leaders should also be carrying a petition to Congress demanding that the Congress require President Obama appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture and other war crimes committed in the name of the American people.
This does two things: first it reminds the CIA who the real power is in this country, the American people; second it forces Congress to take the investigation of these crimes seriously, reminds them of their duties to uphold the Constitution, and stops the appointment of another toothless commission to whitewash the crimes committed in our names.
If, as President Obama claims, the new torture photos are so horrific, so monstrous, that they would ignite a firestorm of hatred, contempt, and anti-American passion across the globe—especially in the Islamic world—then he morally has no choice: he must see to the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Many of these photos have appeared around the world already: from al Jazeera to the Sydney Morning Herald. Not releasing them to the American public has one purpose and one purpose alone: to protect sadistic CIA contractors, and those individuals who authorized the use of torture, from prosecution.
Photos of such horrendous, inhuman events, that are prejudicial on their face, are prima facie evidence that war crimes and other crimes against humanity have been committed. The only way that they may be legitimately withheld from the American public is if they are part of a special prosecutor's investigation.
I would not necessarily prosecute all of the men and women who engaged in, ordered or enabled torture. That would take too long, and would permit some of the worst to escape justice, either by escaping our jurisdiction, or by the expiration of the statute of limitations. No, I would limit the prosecution to those individuals who were responsible for the one hundred or so prisoners who died under torture, especially those whose “cause of death” on their death certificates states “homicide;” plus those individuals higher up who authorized or passed along the orders to torture the prisoners in the first place.
Three decades ago, Frank Church's committee tried to bring the CIA to heel, and once again under the control of the President and the Congress. William Casey and George H.W. Bush undid most of Senator Church's Herculean work, and what a friend of mine once described as “the rogue elephant of the CIA” lived again. The CIA that the Church Committee tried to bring under control: ran the drug trade in Laos and Latin America, overthrew democratically elected governments in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, engaged in domestic spying, and missed the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the Korean and Yom Kippur Wars, among other “mistakes.”
The United States does not need a Praetorian Guard of spies, thinking they are above the law, and what is good for them and what is good for the country are one and the same things. The intelligence community—starting with the CIA—needs to be brought to heel. The torture photos are both the evidence and the call to action. President Obama, do the right thing. We will support you.