An Obligation to Seek Justice for CIA Torture

Torture activism in front of the White House

The Senate torture report alleges several grave abuses – such as use of rectal feeding and rehydration in the absence of medical necessity – that were not authorized by even the dubious legal memos, and thus do not fit the Justice Department’s rationale. Even Alberto Gonzales, attorney general under President George W. Bush, has said he is troubled by evidence suggesting the CIA went beyond Justice Department guidance. The Senate torture report also concludes that the CIA “repeatedly provided inaccurate information” to the Justice Department.

If the Justice Department already knew of the abuses reported in the Senate torture report, it must do more to explain why it found no basis for prosecutions. And if the Justice Department did not have access to this information, how can it dismiss the Senate torture report’s new evidence out of hand?

Nor is it sufficient for the Justice Department to cite “good faith” reliance on dubious legal guidance as a basis for closing investigations. The U.S. is bound by international law to ensure accountability for torture.

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Eric Holder and the Seven Dwarves

(Originally posted on Daily Kos)

Last Friday seven former Directors of Central Intelligence wrote an open letter to President Obama calling for him to reverse the Attorney General’s decision to reopen an investigation into alleged criminal acts committed by CIA interrogators.

This letter marks a new low point in the debate about accountability. Can it really be true that none of the authors are in any way troubled that officers in an agency they once ran tortured prisoners in their care?

The authors state that these cases have already been reviewed and discarded by career Department of Justice prosecutors and should thus remain closed. They neglect to note that the Justice Department was hardly a disinterested party at the time these investigations occurred.

They seem to suggest that good faith and government service should somehow immunize civil servants from being held accountable for their actions. Yet war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, and even genocide are by their very definition committed by public servants.

Men and women in uniform have known for more than a hundred years that they have to act within certain boundaries in war. Those who cross these boundaries commit criminal acts pure and simple. This is the standard we hold other nations to and it is the standard we should hold ourselves to.

The authors argue that prosecutions will discourage American intelligence officers from taking risks to protect their country. Certainly it will force them to consider the consequences of their actions and that is no bad thing. No good can ever come of an intelligence agency that considers itself to be above the law.

The argument that disclosing the interrogation methods now discontinued might provide operational advantage to Al Qaeda is patently absurd. Not least, because the Bush administration has already released numerous former detainees who have told their stories in the Arab media.

Equally, western intelligence services are much more concerned at the potential criminal liability incurred by cooperating and assisting a rogue US intelligence community apparently unconstrained by consideration of international legal standards than by any perceived America inability to keep secrets.

It is not difficult to understand or even admire the loyalty and sense of esprit de corps that prompted this letter. But there are much bigger issues in play here than team spirit.

It is no exaggeration to argue that what is at stake here is the very soul of America. Are we a civilized people that stands resolutely for the principles enshrined in our constitution or do we cut and run at the first sign of trouble?

The Founding Fathers rejected arbitrary imprisonment, torture and total war in favor of something greater – the first modern state built on a foundation of individual human rights and the rule of law.

‘He may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard’ cannot ever be standard by which guilt or innocence is judged in a mature democracy. We undermine this foundation at our peril.