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Torture: the Fault is Not in Our Stars

By       Message Ray McGovern     Permalink
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Unlike many of my progressive friends, for me the current administration's behavior on torture is a glass half full. In my view, the real scandal is how very few have taken a sip.

Sure, President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have adopted some of the secrecy habits of the previous administration. But, for heaven's sake, read what Obama and Holder have gone ahead and released--and done--before you grouse any louder about the torture photos and other data still suppressed.

Lecturing around the country, I have come to expect blank stares when I ask how many in the audience have read any of the downright sickening "torture memos" appearing under Department of Justice letterhead. You know, the ones that Obama released on April 16; remember?

Nor have many read the horse's-mouth "Special Review" by the CIA's own Inspector General on torture and interrogation, which was released on August 24. Sure, it's heavily redacted, but I am tired of hearing about delicate stomachs as an excuse for not reading and pondering the 60 percent of that report that survived. Think for a moment, would you, about the detainees' stomachs.

I feel fortunate to be part of the "Five for Truth" presentations and workshops that Veterans for Peace is arranging for New Mexico -- at Taos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque -- on Oct. 9, 10 and 11. The presenters will be Ann Wright, David Swanson, Cindy Sheehan, Elliot Adams, and I.

In thinking through how I might organize the workshop on "Torture and Intelligence," I decided to bar those who have not read significant portions of the Justice Department torture memos and/or the CIA IG report. And if no one comes, well, so be it.

For me, the attendance will be a microcosmic answer to whether American citizens, including progressives, care enough about the torture conducted in their name that they will have the courage to learn more about it and then to hold accountable those responsible. I think we can safely assume that Obama and Holder are even more interested in a bottom-line answer to that.

We Five for Truth were asked to provide background on our workshops, including what a participant could expect to learn and references for further study. For me, this was an opportunity to do a short pre'cis, distilling the abundant evidence now available on torture. Why, for example, is President Obama so wary of letting justice take its proper course regarding CIA functionaries and contractors (not to mention administration insiders).

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If we can extrapolate from the glass half full--the courage that the President and Holder have shown on the issue of torture--we might have to conclude that they need strong support from us, the American people. So far, I am afraid, what they see is a preponderance of "quiet Germans."

Here's what I sent to the Veterans For Peace organizers:

Workshop on Torture and Intelligence

On April 16, President Barack Obama released official memoranda demonstrating serious crimes by the previous administration. The documents reveal that top CIA officials solicited and obtained from handpicked Department of Justice lawyers legal opinions based on an extraordinary premise; namely, that so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" did not amount to torture unless they caused "pain equivalent to organ failure or death."

With that very high threshold, the CIA was given free rein to use harsh techniques like waterboarding and sleep deprivation, to name just two of the torture techniques that find antecedents in the Spanish Inquisition.

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Several detainees died in CIA custody; the murders appear to qualify as capital offenses under 18 U.S.C. 2441, the War Crimes Act passed into law in 1996 by a Republican-controlled Congress.

The president clearly is conflicted about what to do. That he wants to put this issue on the back burner is clear. Why, is less clear. What goes without saying -- but shouldn't -- is that it is highly risky business to pursue felons who are armed and dangerous and fear the prospect of many years in prison or even execution, if they are brought to justice.

And yet, Obama has done what he promised in letting Attorney General Eric Holder decide to put a prosecutor on the case. As a result, those responsible for the torture are at more risk than ever. And so, one might argue, is Obama.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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