Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war"

On November 8th, the Senate voted 53 to 40 to confirm Michael B. Mukasey as our next Attorney General. On the final day of his confirmation hearing, he avoided a declaration that simulated drowning, known as waterboarding, constitutes torture under U.S. laws.

Is waterboarding so tricky that a reasonable person can’t figure out whether or not it’s torture?. According to Elizabeth de la Vega, a former federal prosecutor with more than 20 years of experience, it's easy to figure out. In "What Real DOJ Trial Attorneys Say About Torture," published in Truthout on November 18, de la Vega describes the White House and Mukasey’s positions on torture: “…More than anything, White House officials want us to believe that the law of torture is so terribly confusing and vague that no lay person could comprehend its complexities…”

“Consider, for example, Dana Perino on October 5, 2007. This was the press conference where the White House spokesperson made it clear…that she was not pleased about the reporters repeatedly asking her to define the term ‘torture.’ She had already told them the day before: ‘It's a very complicated legal matter’ better left to the experts…. [lawyers]

“Newly sworn Attorney General Michael Mukasey…is an attorney, not to mention a former federal prosecutor and veteran federal judge. But, hiding behind a mask of lawyerly caution, he has deliberately perpetuated the same false idea, refusing to acknowledge to the Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats the starkly obvious conclusion that waterboarding is illegal under US law on the ground that legal opinions must be based on 'real life’…

“ What Perino and Mukasey are doing, of course, is deliberately obfuscating the law of torture to support the president's effort to inoculate himself and his henchmen against possible future prosecution. Perhaps they can succeed in confusing at least some percentage of the public (an increasingly small percentage, it appears), but they are not fooling the prosecutors. Indeed, before uttering even one more patently ridiculous and legally unsupportable word in furtherance of this shameful campaign, Bush administration officials should find out what their own Justice Department career attorneys have already said about the law of torture - not in secret memos, but in publicly filed court documents.”

De la Vega goes on to describe the prosecution of ”Charles 'Chuckie' Taylor Jr., son of the former president of Liberia, Charles McArthur Taylor, with committing and conspiring to commit acts of torture on behalf of the former Liberian government's Anti-Terrorism Unit. The statute under which Taylor Jr. is charged - Title 18, United States Code, Section 2340 - is the very law that contains the definition of torture Bush administration appointees seem to find so befuddling…."

Read the whole article.

Then turn to former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman’s article, "Beyond Mukasey's Confirmation, White House Liability Issues Loom Large, published in Truthout on November 13th. “…[A]ttorney general nominee Michael Mukasey's evasiveness on the definition of torture has done something historic. It has made it unmistakably clear to mainstream observers that the president may be criminally liable for violating anti-torture laws. Criminal liability of this White House will have wider repercussions than Mr. Mukasey's confirmation. It will reverberate through his tenure as attorney general and beyond the end of the Bush administration.

“We now know that the reason Mr. Mukasey refused to acknowledge that waterboarding meets the legal definition of torture, or at the very least cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment, clearly had nothing to do with not being briefed about the procedure. If he didn't know at the time of the Senate committee hearing, he certainly learned afterwards that the US had considered waterboarding criminal and prosecuted it for at least a century. The real reason, as mainstream news analysts now acknowledge, was that publicly admitting waterboarding is torture or cruel and inhuman would have put the president in jeopardy of criminal charges.”

This article is also well worth reading in its entirety.

I note that on this day 62 years ago, 24 Nazi leaders went on trial before an international war crimes tribunal in Nuremburg, Germany, which brings me to The New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Rich’s October 14th article, "The Good Germans Among Us," in which he states, “ It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves…. By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s 'enhanced interrogation' techniques have a grotesque provenance: ‘Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.”

Rich’s final comment: "Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those 'good Germans' who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.”

I wonder if our generation will be described as the “torture generation.” We live in a democracy, albeit a weakened one, but it’s not a dictatorship yet. How can we not be blamed if we allow our leaders to continue to torture?

(photo: Able2Know.org)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It has seemed to me for several months that the administration must have read the Nazi histories and decided to try the Nazi techniques.

It is chilling to the bone to see this happening without its being reported on p. 1 of the papers and on the evening news.

In other words, the administration is getting away with an apparent plan to turn the country into a fascist state.