Torture instigators George Bush and Dick Cheney should not
be allowed to evade prosecution on grounds they acted in good faith on their
lawyers' advice because they told their lawyers what advice to give.
"Could Al Capone or 'Lucky' Luciano receive immunity for acting in accordance with the advice of counsel when they told counsel what to advise?" asks Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover .
Lower level CIA and military personnel that did not read the supposedly exculpatory memos, Velvel said, also cannot claim reliance on legal counsel because "they had to know that torture was forbidden no matter what some lawyers said. You could not grow up in America and not know this" any more than a person could claim murder was lawful because some lawyer told him so, Velvel writes.
"People who grew up in America cannot realistically claim that they thought it was lawful to beat people mercilessly, to smash their heads against walls, to kill about one hundred of them apparently, to hang them from ceiling hooks, to make them freeze, to deny them sleep for weeks on end, and so forth," Velvel writes in an essay in his new book "America 2008" from Doukathsan Press.
"They knew what they were doing was wrong," he continued. "FBI...guys on the scene knew it regardless of what lawyers like Yoo said, and it was knowledge that what they were doing was wrong that caused some lower level CIA guys too to want a 'get out of jail free card,'" Velvel writes.
Those who claim they were ordered to torture, like those who said they had a legal opinion that to do so was okay, are guilty of an effort to "escape the Nuremberg principles by saying that others said what the culprits were doing was okay," Velvel continues. The Nuremberg tribunal that judged accused Nazi war criminals after World War Two concluded they could not evade guilt by asserting they were only following orders.
"But claiming that their actions were immune because others okayed them is precisely what Cheney, Bush, their whole crowd...have been attempting to do... They knew what they were doing was illegal, as evidenced by the extreme secrecy they practiced lest it be learned they were practicing, and lest they be accused of practicing, the crimes they were in fact practicing. Morality, decency, and Nuremberg alike forbid this."
"By now it seems beyond serious doubt that George Bush and company committed numerous war crimes," Velvel wrote. "It is evident that if these things can be done, then there is an end of law where the truly wealthy and powerful are concerned. Whether it is Al Capone or Dick Cheney, the filthy rich or obscenely powerful will have it in their power to do the most awful things yet escape the law by using contributions or power to obtain immunity from preexisting law and to buy the opinions of immoral lawyers. That is the moral and philosophical basis why these things can't be permitted," Velvel said.
Velvel is dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, founded in 1988 for the express purpose of providing a quality, affordable legal education to minority students, immigrants and students from low-income backgrounds who would otherwise not be able to afford law school.
(Sherwood Ross is a media consultant to the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)