Why did we impeach a President for lying about an affair, but won’t prosecute those who created our torture gulag?

Someone in the Obama administration has leaked the main findings of a government ethics report about the Bush II attorneys who wrote and published the memos that in various places stated the legal justification behind the following views: 1) waterboarding is not torture; 2) that the legal definition of tortured permitted a number of techniques that the common person would consider to be torture; and 3) that if the president orders it, it is by definition not torture.  All these views by the way came in John Yoo and Jay Bybee’s infamous 2002 memo to Alberto Gonzales.

The original draft of the report said that Yoo and Bybee had “had violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted the memos that allowed the use of harsh interrogation tactics,” as yesterday’s Associated Press story puts it.

But a senior Justice Department official David Margolis reduced the charge to “using poor judgment,” which of course can’t lead to disbarment or other professional sanctions.  By the way, A.P. released its story at 2:00 a.m., Sunday morning, I guess in an effort to make sure the news got the coverage it deserves (that’s sarcasm!).

At least the Obama administration has been consistent when it comes to saying that we should let bygones be bygones and not prosecute the people who created the torture gulag that has shamed us and ruined our reputation in the world.  Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Yoo, Bybee and the dozens of henchmen who actually constructed our torture chambers—all are getting off scot free.  They won’t even receive the proper public venting provided by the Clinton impeachment for lying about an affair. 

But then there’s the matter of the shameful hypocrisy that the Obama administration has demonstrated about ending torture itself: Obama said he would end torture and close the Guantánamo facility.  Neither has happened. 

Those who voted for Obama who want to masochistically revel in betrayal should read Roger D. Hodge’s article titled “The Mendacity of Hope” in the February issue of Harper’s.  (FYI, The New York Times reported just this morning that Harper’s has fired Hodges.) The third and fourth paragraphs present a litany of disappointment and horror:

“Obama promised to end the war in Iraq, end torture, close Guantánamo, restore the constitution, heal our wounds, wash our feet. None of these things has come to pass. As president, with few exceptions, Obama either has embraced the unconstitutional war powers claimed by his predecessor or has left the door open for their quiet adoption at some later date. Leon Panetta, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has declared that the kidnapping and rendition of foreigners will continue, and the Bush Administration’s expansive doctrine of state secrets continues to be used in court against those wrongfully detained and tortured by our security forces and allies. Obama has adopted military commissions, once an unpardonable offense against our best traditions, to prosecute terrorism cases in which legitimate convictions cannot be obtained; when even such mock trials provide too much justice, he will make do with indefinite detention. If, by some slim chance, a defendant were to be found not guilty, we have been assured that the president’s “post-acquittal” detention powers would then come into play.

The principle of habeas corpus, sacred to candidate Obama as ‘the essence of who we are,’ no longer seems so essential, and reports continue to surface of secret prisons hidden from due process and the Red Cross. Waterboarding has been banned, but other “soft” forms of torture, such as sleep deprivation and force-feeding, continue—as do the practices, which once seemed so terribly important to opponents of the Bush regime, of presidential signing statements and warrantless surveillance. In at least one respect, the Obama Justice Department has produced an innovation: a claim of “sovereign immunity” in response to a lawsuit seeking damages for illegal spying. Not even the minions of George W. Bush, with their fanciful notions of the unitary executive, made use of this constitutionally suspect doctrine, derived from the ancient common-law assumption that ‘the King can do no wrong,’ to defend their clear violations of the federal surveillance statute.”

The right-wing, military contractors and the news media have conspired to strike enough fear in the hearts of many U.S. citizens that they are happy—perhaps relieved is a better choice of words—to give up their freedom  and to have immoral, illegal and obscene acts committed in their names.  So let’s review again what’s wrong with torture:

  • It is against both U.S. and international law.
  • It is universally perceived as barbaric and immoral, an act that reduces the actor and those sponsoring the actor to the level of unethical bestiality.
  • It doesn’t work, at least according to most experts and studies.  (But as with those who don’t believe our earth is getting warmer because of human interventions and those who believe that capital punishment serves as a deterrent to crime, the believers will take the word of a tiny minority of experts, who usually are in the employ or pay of the some faction of the believers).
  • It puts our own combatants at risk, because once we torture we give de facto approval to our enemies to do the same.

We thus have something that’s illegal and immoral, makes people hate us, puts our own people at risk and doesn’t even work, and the Obama administration can’t summon up the courage to end it.  Truly shameful and disappointing.

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