11 April 2009
On Thursday, Leon Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), issued an internal memo declaring the Obama administration’s opposition to the investigation of intelligence personnel who carried out torture under the Bush administration.
The statement, announcing a blanket amnesty for those who have committed grave violations of international and human rights law, came on the heels of a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report that detailed, and defined as torture, the CIA’s horrifying “enhanced interrogation” methods. (See: Red Cross report details CIA war crimes)
The media has largely ignored the ICRC report, instead seizing on parts of Panetta’s memo that indicate the Obama administration will decommission CIA “black site” prisons and cease using private contractors in interrogations.
Panetta claims that CIA personnel cannot be investigated because they were acting under legal findings crafted by Bush administration Justice Department officials—findings the Obama administration has thus far refused to make public. The memo reads, “Officers who act on guidance from the Department of Justice—or acted on such guidance previously—should not be investigated, let alone punished.”
Yet international law, including precedents established in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi military and civilian officials, makes clear that this “just following orders” defense is not applicable to violations of human rights and war crimes such as torture. Nuremberg Principle IV states, “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
More importantly, Panetta’s claim that CIA personnel were only following orders begs the question: Why not prosecute those who gave the orders?
There are two primary reasons for the Obama administration’s opposition to any investigation of Bush administration torturers. In the first place, a serious investigation of torture, extraordinary rendition and the global gulag of prison black sites would implicate not only those who carried out these policies and high-ranking Bush administration officials, but also the Democratic Party and the US media.
The entire American political and media establishment is implicated in criminal methods traditionally associated with fascist and totalitarian regimes.
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