Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An ongoing issue is US codification of and complicity in torture, and efforts to make a reckoning for it that has finally started arriving in fits and starts. A long-awaited report came to light (Aug. 24, by the CIA’s Inspector General). In a remarkable turn, the Attorney General of the United States decided to investigate CIA brutality in connection with the voluminous documentation of “abuse” of detainees captured in some fashion during the last eight years or so. Critics may argue that targeting low- to mid-level operatives in a clandestine agency carries less political weight, less risky, than prosecuting people who decided policy at the Office of Legal Counsel, which is under the AG’s purview.

Several things capture my interest so it is hard to narrow it down and stay focused on one thing at a time. Indeed, these days a lot of things appear interconnected and, upon closer inspection, actually are, even if those webs of connections end up tenuous.

Questions: who is going to be investigated? Will there be prosecutions? How much will actually come to light, given the use of “state secrets” protections? Given what we already know, what will more information actually uncover? Will it become political ammunition or lead to better transparency and an end to the abuses (crimes, in layman’s terminology)?

Why has it taken so long for the C.I.A. to be prosecuted for its crimes? I think the usage of “crime” is acceptable if we define criminal acts are those that are unlawful. The biggest question then becomes, Does international law have any force? do our own laws? The NYT reports, “The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing Central Intelligence Agency employees and contractors to prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects, according to a person officially briefed on the matter.” (my italics)

We can, for now, safely assume that a democratic country needs a clandestine service to do its dirty work, the kind that does not necessitate public deliberation — or awareness. But for some reason, national security is such a potent drug that even normally staid concepts like the rule of law (not rule of reckless arrogant men) gets distorted into a bizarre shape. Our representatives refuse to place the detainees at Gitmo into their home districts, never mind the multitudes of US prisoners already jailed in them. The subtext is that Americans are not capable of Qaeda-like brutality. Refuting that assumption ought to be unnecessary.

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