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It’s good to see that the task force report holds the Bush administration lawyers responsible for the mistreatment of detainees:
Lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) repeatedly gave erroneous legal sanction to certain activities that amounted to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of U.S. and international law, and in doing so, did not properly serve their clients: the president and the American people.
Extraordinary rendition, the practice (begun in the Clinton years) of outsourcing torture to foreign governments, and abuse of detainees at secret CIA prisons, or “black sites,” also come in for condemnation as violations of international law. Unfortunately, the task force did not call for an end to turning people over to other governments; it simply recommended that there be more than “diplomatic assurances” that torture will not take place.
Refreshingly, physicians and psychologists are taken to task for their participation, in violation of age-old ethical standards, in the abuse of detainees, both by devising techniques that constituted torture and for failing to report abuses. It’s about time a floodlight was shined on this shameful conduct by medical and so-called mental-health professionals.
Also welcome is the recommendation that “the executive branch should declassify evidence regarding the CIA’s and military’s abuse and torture of captives.” We have a right to know what this lawless government did in our names.
The task force also called on the government to comply with its obligation under the Convention Against Torture to assure “that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation.” Quite the opposite has happened: “The United States has not complied with this requirement, in large part because of the government’s repeated, successful invocation of the state-secrets privilege in lawsuits brought by torture victims.” The Obama administration has been particularly determined to keep such suits out of court. This is a blot on the country.
The report further indicted the government for not complying with its obligation under the Convention Against Torture to “criminalize all acts of torture, attempts to commit torture, or complicity or participation in torture” and “proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.” It notes that “no CIA personnel have been convicted or even charged for numerous instances of torture in CIA custody.” Conspicuous by its absence is the call for prosecution of President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, members of the Office of Legal Counsel who cooked up legal justifications for torture, CIA director George Tenet, and other top officials.
President Obama says “looking backwards” at past conduct is unproductive when it comes to the interrogation of detainees. That’s odd. The government doesn’t find it unproductive to look back when private individuals commit crimes. Why should government officers get special treatment?
We can only hope that someday, when these people are traveling abroad, they will be arrested and brought before the International Criminal Court.
Finally, the task force notes that Obama, despite apparent promises to end the abuses, has not lived up to expectations. Guantanamo is still open (he said this week he would push to close it), and reporter Jeremy Scahill has exposed the CIA’s continued participation in interrogations in a secret prison beneath Somalia’s National Security Agency. Scahill’s reporting reveals that the administration has simply outsourced torture — hardly an improvement over the Bush years. Of course, Obama also claims the power to kill people and to detain them indefinitely in a military prison without due process.
“The Obama administration has ended the most inhumane treatment of detainees,” the report states, “though some troubling questions about current policies remain unanswered. But it is unclear whether it has taken sufficient steps to prevent a future administration from resorting to torture or cruel treatment.”
When it comes to conserving the national-security state, it matters little which party is in power.