Friday, June 26, 2009

Ending Torture: Today is United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) has been observing June as Torture Awareness Month. And today, June 26, is the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

John Dean has recently done a couple of articles on the state of torture accountability from the Cheney-Bush years at Findlaw.com: The Politics of Excusing Torture In The Name of National Security 05/15/09; Expert Advice On Dealing With A Prior Administration's Use of Torture 06/12/09

In the first piece, Dean indulges in some informed speculation about how various pressures within the national security establishment may have pushed Obama into endorsing some of the extreme secrecy policies of the Cheney-Bush administration and also sending signals that he would not be prosecuting torture perpetrators. But in that article, he was assuming that Obama's administration would be pursuing legal accountability later. By the time of the second article a month later, though, he seemed to be resigned to the idea that the administration would not seek to prosecute torture perpetrators.

The second article lists a set of arguments for and against prosecuting torturers. Dean makes it clear that he finds the "arguments for prosecution stronger than those against it when those arguments are applied to the Bush/Cheney Administration." He understates his own case. The way he has lined up the pro- and anti-prosecution arguments, it's cringe-inducing to see how weak the anti-prosecution arguments are by comparison. At best, at best, not pursuing prosecutions is reckless irresponsibility.


Dean's diagnosis of the situation in the earlier post is as follows:

It is not likely that Barack Obama had widespread political support in the national security community, which would have had a natural affinity for one of their own like John McCain. But Obama needs to win their hearts and minds. He cannot effectively lead and protect the country without their support, and since so many are recovering from battered-by-the-White-House syndrome stemming from the Bush/Cheney years, he is dealing with their very bad mood. Rather than risk alienation, Obama has given in to them, at the expense of his natural constituency, the political progressives who find it appalling that the Bush/Cheney torture is not being fully exposed (and prosecuted) to prevent it from happening again -- and sooner, rather than later.

I would encourage those who are demanding exposure and prosecution to keep pounding their drums. Clearly, they are on the right side of this issue, and Obama knows it. While he is going to placate the national security bureaucrats from time to time in order to lead them effectively, hopefully the pressure for him to deal with the atrocious behavior of Bush and Cheney is only just getting started.
Dean's opinion on this matter has obviously evolved in a positive direction since his appearance at the Netroots Nation convention in Austin in August, 2008. There, he seemed to take it for granted that there should be no prosecution of Cheney-Bush official over the torture program. And while his focus on the legal and practical issues has obviously improved considerably, he does not in either of those two articles mention that the Torture Convention of 1984 requires the government to prosecute those for whom there is evidence that they participated in torture, with as perpetrators writing memos on their office computers or as hands-on torturers.

And while Dean's description of the practical power of the national security bureaucracy is important ("It takes about 18 to 24 months for a new presidential team to get control of the national security behemoth"), it's also extremely disturbing. The purpose of that national security bureaucracy is to defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including the laws against torture. As difficult as it may be, if there are in fact senior military and civilian officials who in practice are blocking the prosecution of torture perpetrators, Obama needs to fire them and put people in their places who are willing to follow and enforce the law and defend the Constitution. Because if the torture perpetrators aren't prosecuted, that virtually guarantees that the next Republican administration - or a Democratic one before that - will restore the torture program, relying on some version of Cheney's Unitary Executive theory which holds the President to be an elective dictator.

The torture issue isn't going away.

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