Leaning to the Left

Writing from a liberal persuasion

Posts Tagged ‘torture’

Why Nancy Pelosi Needs To Resign

Posted by Beau Winiger on May 14, 2009

Nancy Pelosi, the leading Democrat in Congress, is quickly becoming not only an embarrassment to Democrats, but also a serious hindrance to a true discovery and prosecution of torture that went on during the Bush administration.  The latest development, Pelosi’s claim that the CIA lied to her about waterboarding, simply provides more fodder for Republicans who will claim that any torture investigation is simple politics.

One of the main fallback positions of Republicans has become that Democrats, including Pelosi, knew about and were complicit in the approval of torture techniques used against prisoners.  The threat presented by this stance is “if we go down, you go down”.  Now one would hope that such a presently vocal opponent of torture as Nancy Pelosi would be fine with that logic.  If she has nothing to hide, and if she is truly concerned with ridding this country of politicians who support torture, then her first and only response should be that everyone is open to investigation. 

Unfortunately, and predictably, her response has been just the opposite.  She first claimed that she never knew anything about waterboarding.  Then she claimed that she was never consulted about it, but might have been sort of told about it, but surely her opinion or approval was never asked (forgive me if that isn’t exactly what she said, but trying to pin down what Pelosi is talking about is harder than trying to grasp a snake greased in baby oil).  Then she said that after a top-ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee was informed of the practice that Democrat sent a letter of disapproval to the CIA, a letter that Pelosi could not even find the time to sign.  Finally, Pelosi is now claiming that the CIA lied to her about waterboarding.  It is a true sign of the trust I have in Pelosi that I actually believe the CIA over Pelosi.  Let me repeat that.  I believe the CIA is telling the truth as opposed to Pelosi telling the truth. 

The only way to truly prosecute the torture that went on during the Bush administration (and even conservatives have stopped trying to insist that it wasn’t torture) is to have a full and open investigation.  Every single high ranking member of Congress, the executive branch and any lawyers that wrote memos saying war crimes aren’t war crimes should be prosecuted.  Period.  Any person that is truly concerned with the fact that the United States tortured should be completely unconcerned with whether those that authorized it were Democrats or Republicans.  The only concern should be who authorized it, and how long are they going to jail for.  If this means that the vast majority of politicians need to be thrown out of office so be it.

Unfortunately, this will never happen.  By the very nature of how government works, it is almost certain that Pelosi knew quite a bit more about the torture programs than she is claiming know.  Any prosecution would almost certainly cost Pelosi, and many other high-ranking Democrats, their jobs.  As the Congress is currently Democrat controlled, and there is a President who is currently reluctant to prosecute (although, as we have seen with many things the President says, that could change in an instant), there is almost no chance that a prosecution would be started.  Whatever Pelosi and other Democrats might say to the contrary, their utmost concern is not this country or prosecuting torture, but first and foremost their own political skin.  This bickering about what Pelosi did or did not know only bogs down any chance of a true investigation, with real consequences, from ever taking place.  In this author’s opinion one of the best things that could happen for Democrats right now is if Nancy Pelosi submitted her immediate resignation.  With her continued leadership in Congress there is no chance of moving forward towards real resolution on the question of torture in this country.

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Torture, So What

Posted by Beau Winiger on April 23, 2009

The newest conservative defense of the torture/enhanced interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration can be summarized as follows, “Even if we did torture, is it really such a big deal since we got results”.  This viewpoint has been espoused by the likes of Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) in the past few days.  Boehner even went so far as to call the tactics torture, but quickly swept aside the severity of law-breaking actions since they got results and were used in protecting America.

For the sake of argument let’s agree that concrete information was gained by the use of torture (even though it is generally agreed that torture is best used for obtaining false information).  While this author in no way wants America to be subjected to future terrorist attacks, this does not automatically mean that all methods are open to use.  America needs not only physical protection, but the basic ideals that America represents also need to be protected, and one of those ideals is that America is a fair and just country that does not use torture.  It is against both American and international law, regardless of the usefulness of information obtained.  Once you start to sweep aside American values you have started to destroy the America that so many of us know and love.

Although not usually a source of sound political judgement, every once in a while Fox News will surprise you.  Yesterday Shepherd Smith repeatedly refused to buy into the new conservative talking point of torture not really being that bad when it provides useful information.    As you can see by the clip Mr. Smith is offended by the idea that torture is acceptable in certain circumstances, as we as Americans should be.

This author does not doubt that many of the severest techniques were reserved for suspects that truly did want to harm America, and they most likely did have information that would prove useful in the defense of this country.  But one of the hallmarks of American justice is that it should be universally applied.  This means that we are forced to treat others as we would wish to be treated around the world.  The same people that are dismissing torture by Americans would be outraged if the exact same techniques were used against Americans by a hostile nation.  What this says is that torture is bad, always, regardless of who it is used against. 

This does not mean that wantingto use torture to gain information is unreasonable, but it does not dismiss the crime.  For example, let’s imagine a case where a man’s child was brutally murdered.  The man knows who murdered his child, but he does not want to wait for the justice system to use the approved legal methods to apprehend the man, fearing he might kill again.  He tracks down the murderer and kills him himself.  While our emotions might lead us to believe the father did the right thing, this does not dismiss the fact that the father is now guilty of murder.  Just because you can sympathize does not  dismiss the action.

 The values that we hold to be dear should not be convenient values, ones that we dismiss when they become difficult to uphold.  The true measure of the sincerity of our beliefs can be seen only when we are forced to apply them to people who do not deserve them.  Such is the case with the torture of terrorist suspects.  If you are a terrorist plotting against America most people (including this author) would say that perhaps you have torture coming to you, you deserve what you get.  But we live in a country where we believe that torture is fundamentally wrong, and by excusing torture the same conservatives who claim to represent American values are actively destroying the America that we as citizens believe in.  Torture is wrong, always, no matter what, and it is a sad day when such a statement even needs to be argued.

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A New Face on Old Politics

Posted by Beau Winiger on April 21, 2009

The recent release of Bush-era torture memos has shed some light on just what that administration considered humane treatment.  President Obama made the correct decision about the release of these memos, regardless of what the conservative talking heads might be saying to the contrary, but the President has stumbled when he promised that none of the people who tortured but thought they were acting legally will be prosecuted.  The sanctioned actions described and rationalized in the memos are torture, and those that advanced these techniques should be treated as war criminals.

Simply exposing the memos to the public light is not enough to ensure that torture is not perpetrated in America’s name in the future.  Concrete prosecutorial steps must be taken to show both the citizens of America and the rest of the world that America does not believe in torture.  By saying that no one will be prosecuted the administration is saying that although torture is bad, it isn’t really bad enough to warrant any legal action.  Such a stance is indefensible, and is the exact kind of thinking that led to torture in the first place.  The authors of these memos have no place in an America that wishes to show the rest of the world that it does hold some respect for other people.

President Obama has said that this is a time for moving forward, and not looking backward.  This author could not agree more.  It is indeed a time to look forward, but what future are we looking towards when we accept that we live in a nation that justifies the use of torture and sees no need to prosecute the use of torture and the violation of international law.  The future that we should be striving towards should be one where we clean out the skeletons of our past.  One quickly sees the absurdity of Obama’s position when comparisons are made with other egregious acts of American history.  Whether it is slavery, Japanese interment camps, the genocide waged against Native Americans, or the denial of rights to women, America has never been served by simply turning the page on history.  In each of the examples mentioned above the people that were charged with carrying out these laws were simply doing their job.  The administration wishes to add to that shameful roll call by continuing the age-old American tradition of politicians protecting politicians.  One is forced to consider the idea that perhaps this administration is unwilling to prosecute the former administration out of fears that they themselves could be prosecuted by some future administration.  Why else would there be an unwillingness to set a precedent of punishing torture? 

In an issue that is filled with maddening illogical arguments, add to that the conservative pundits and lawmakers who are now bashing President Obama for releasing these memos.  They are not outraged by the fact that the Bush administration tortured, even when they said they didn’t.  No, their outrage stems from the fact that now people know that we tortured, and our enemies will know how to prepare for future possibilities of torture.  They prefer to live in a world where America is a land that will readily resort to secret prisons around the world that ship in prisoners in order to violate international law.  Since these same people often claim that terrorists hate our freedom and democracy one can only assume that they are trying to rid America of freedom in order to deprive the terrorists of their only recruiting tool.

During the election cycle, while I was being told over and over by Obama supporters that he would be different, that he was a new kind of politician, I held fast to my stance of “Let’s wait and see”.  While Obama is by no means a new Bush, he is also in no way a new politician.  He is simply a fresh smiling face plastered on the same old guard.  The new Obama morality holds that we don’t torture anymore, and we will make some of the facts known about the torture that we used to do, but we aren’t going to do anything about it.  The President has set an important precedent, and this author would unfortunately not be surprised if a future administration reveals torture tactics used at Bagram in Afghanistan under the current administration.

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