ACLU idea to pardon Bush II torture crew won’t prevent future administrations from torturing

Former Vice President and Torturer-in-Chief Dick Cheney disputes the two main findings of the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, AKA, America’s torture gulag started by George W. Bush’s administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Cheney believes that torture is legal and that it yielded information that helped in the war against terrorism. The Senate Committee report questions the legality of torture and concludes that the CIA’s torturing of 119 incarcerated men yielded absolutely zero information of value. Why anyone needed our grotesque experiment in barbarism to learn that torture never works is beyond me. All you had to do was ask torture victim John McCain.

It makes sense that Dick Cheney would defend his own policies, but I wonder why more responsible conservatives are so upset at the release of the report. It’s too early to tell whether the report will incite violent reactions in the Islamic world, but not to release the report would do much more harm to American ideals than having a few embassies pelted with eggs or hearing crowds exclaim anti-American slogans. We’re an open society, and an open society does not bury its mistakes.

In the United States, we may not bury mistakes, but we often do not make the offenders pay a price for making them. Certainly when a country wages all its wars thousands of miles from its borders, the citizenry is never fully aware of the savagery that wartime inflicts on its victims. Those responsible for the illegal bombing of Cambodia never paid for their crimes. Nor did those who illegally sold guns to the Iranian government and used the profit to fund illegal activities of right-wing rebels in Nicaragua. When he first took office, President Obama quickly ruled out prosecuting anyone in the Bush II administration for torture, even as he moved quickly to eradicate most vestiges of the torture system. Bush II torture gives Obama a perfect straw man: no matter what he does, be it drones, spying on U.S. citizens or killing instead of trying Osama bin Laden, Obama—and the country—can always proudly say that at least it’s not torture.

In good American fashion, Anthony Romero, head of the American Civil Liberties Union, wants to pardon the instigators and implementers of our torture machine. In a New York Times editorial, Romero says that by pardoning the torture crew, we set into stone the idea that torture is illegal, since you can only pardon someone for crimes they commit. Obama is not inclined to prosecute. The pardon would substitute for a conviction in establishing the illegality of torture, thus short-circuiting any future administration that wanted to claim torture was legal.

Romero forgets that torture is already illegal in the Geneva Convention, which the United States signed and has never repudiated. Very few legal experts believe torture is legal–about as many as there are scientists who doubt the Earth is warming.

He also forgets that Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon did not prevent future presidents from spying on people, bombing other countries without the permission of Congress or carrying out illegal covert operations. All it did was tie a ribbon on the Nixon story, allowing the country to move forward and forget.

I for one don’t want there to be public closure on this disgraceful stain upon American history and ideals. The best case scenario would be to bring Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Addington, Yoo and Bybee up on charges, but that’s probably not going to happen. But it certainly won’t happen when the organization most associated with civil liberties in the country stops clamoring for some kind of court or tribunal for these monsters.

In proposing pardons for the torturers, Romaero is doing some Obama-like negotiating: giving away the store as the opening position. The ACLU chief negotiates away the threat of prosecution for what amounts to very little—closure on a shameful era. Instead of proposing pardons, the ACLU should launch an aggressive public communications campaign advocating prosecution of the Bush torture crew. As part of its mission, the ACLU should do whatever it can to use our 21st century inquisition as a constant reminder that in securing the peace we must remain vigilant of the freedoms that make that peace worth securing.

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