14 Reasons for Accountability

Below is a list of 14 reasons why I think it’s important to thoroughly investigate interrogation and detention practices and policies since 9/11/01 and to initiate criminal prosecutions where evidence is developed that warrants prosecution.

1.  President Obama has said he wants to look forward rather than backward.  This implies a false dichotomy between the two.  Without examining the past, we cannot fully understand how to ensure that whether the US government follows the law is not left up to the whim of the current occupant of the White House.  A thorough investigation will provide information needed to determine whether and which policy/regulatory/statutory changes are needed to prevent recurrences of bad practices.

2.  President Obama has also said that “no one is above the law.”  By failing to thoroughly investigate the practices of the last 8 years, he would be saying that, in fact, some people ARE above the law.

3.  The investigations that have been conducted by the Bush administration were inadequate.  They were all limited in scope and failed to look up the chain of command.

4.  A thorough investigation would restore the public’s trust by showing that the government is not trying to hide the facts.

5.  The government is legally required to prosecute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.  Failing to do so would, in and of itself, be unlawful.

6.  Real accountability demonstrates the government’s seriousness about changing course, as well as the seriousness with which the government views the offenses.

7.  It is a way of demonstrating support for rank-and-file soldiers by showing that no one is above the law and that scape-goating low-level soldiers is not acceptable.  Emphasizes that officers and civilian leaders who set policy are accountable for issuing clear and lawful orders to their subordinates.

8.  Will help restore the reputation and influence of the U.S. in the world.

9.  Assures other countries that U.S. speaks from a position of moral authority when asking them to respect the human rights of U.S. personnel.

10.  Those who suffered torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention are entitled to see those responsible brought to justice, as part of their healing process.  They are also entitled to reparations, and those not guilty of any offenses are entitled to have their names cleared.  Justice can defuse anger of victims and those who might seek vengeance on their behalf.

11.  Without the threat of prosecution, perpetrators are unlikely to be forthcoming about their actions.  There is little evidence from the experience of other countries that offering pardons or amnesties motivates perpetrators to volunteer inculpatory information.

12.  Even many countries that initially granted amnesty for human rights crimes because they thought prosecutions would be too divisive subsequently revoked the amnesty (e.g., Argentina).

13.  Prosecutions are a way of affirming that the crimes prosecuted are an injury to society, not just to the individual victims.

14.  Investigations and criminal prosecutions, where warranted, can help deter future crimes.  Bush administration officials, including Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Hayden, continue to aggressively defend the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics.  If people with similar values and perspectives come to power again in the future, there is every reason to think they will resort to the same illegal practices, unless there are serious consequences for doing so.

Obama planning to end harsh interrogations?

News reports indicate that President-elect Barack Obama is planning to end harsh interrogations of detainees by directing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to adhere to the U.S. Army Field Manual for interviewing suspects.  If today’s reports are correct, Obama believes that returning the United States to the rule of law is paramount for his administration. It is vital that there be a single standard for all interrogations for all agents and forces of the U.S. government.

But there are also worrying signs that the administration is thinking of leaving a loophole for special techniques for the CIA. The military is on the frontlines dealing with insurgents and terrorism suspects everyday and has historically adhered to, respected and championed the Geneva Conventions. The argument that the CIA needs additional techniques, tools or methods is absurd and, even more importantly, fundamentally dangerous to our national security. Former FBI agents and among the best counterterrorism interrogators have denounced this false choice for what it is, a road to nowhere.  Or at best a confusing maze of contradictory standards ripe for abuse which we leave our own forces on the frontlines and yet fail to give them the clear guidance that they deserve.

Our security in dealing with insurgents or terrorists does not stem from the barrel of a gun, but from our own conviction and the faith we impart in American values and the strength of our democracy. The difference between winning and losing the fight with terrorists is the difference between our values and theirs, how we treat captured personnel and how they treated Neil Roberts. Every time we cross that line we diminish ourselves, our values and our chance of victory.

Amnesty International calls on the new administration to categorically reject the notion that any additional special techniques or methods beyond the Army Field Manual are needed. Torture or abuses in any form are neither acceptable nor necessary in protecting the United States.

Torture Might Be Necessary

CongressDaily reports yesterday:

“The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat said Tuesday he has recommended that President-elect Barack Obama keep the country’s current national intelligence director and CIA chief in place for some time to ensure continuity in U.S. intelligence programs during the transition to a new administration.

Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said he also recommended to Obama’s transition team that some parts of the CIA’s controversial alternative interrogation program should be allowed to continue. He declined to say what he specifically recommended, however.”

Personnel issues aside, the Obama team needs to send a clear message, that it repudiates the fact that the US has abdicated a bipartisan position on treatment and torture that has spanned over 50 years. The US should adopt a single standard for the treatment of detainees and it should be based on the US Army field manual.

The notion that undermining this standard advances our national security is absurd, and based on a cartoon-like view of the threats and challenges we face. Everytime we hold an individual we put a mirror to ourselves and our values, and we should treat them according to the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.