Last week, the Justice Department issued a statement saying that "intelligence community officials" would not face federal prosecution for torturing prisoners. The Department of Justice also promised to defend alleged torturers in any "judicial or administrative proceeding" brought against them and to compensate them "for any monetary judgement or penalty ultimately imposed."
That's right. In a short press release the Obama Administration promised not only to let torturers walk but also to use public money to defend their conduct.
President Obama made a speech the same day,
"To assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution."And explaining why justice should take a back seat to politics, Obama continued:
"This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America's ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future."Remember, Obama was the editor of the Harvard Law Review. He was a professor of constitutional law. He's smart. But here he is describing war criminals being held responsible in a court of law as "retribution" and "laying blame for the past." Oh, don't worry, he respects the "strong views and emotions" that U.S.-sanctioned torture evokes. But holding torturers accountable would be too divisive, so we're just going to try to not let it happen again.
As disappointed as I was with this news, I noticed that the statement from the Justice Department and Obama's remarks each offered amnesty for "intelligence officials" acting on guidance from the Bush Justice Department. There was no mention of those actually in the Bush White House and Justice Department who gave the guidance, who set the policy, to torture. I wondered if that was intentional. I can live with amnesty for the intelligence officers and military personnel following orders if we hold accountable the ones who gave the orders. So I waited for some clarification about how far up the chain Obama's "get out of jail free" card would go.
White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel appeared on ABC's "This Week" today and said,
"Those who devised the policy, [the president] believes that they were, should not be prosecuted either." [sic]And there you have it: Obama's worst decision yet as president. We pinky swear we won't torture anymore, but we won't hold anyone responsible. Never mind if the decision violates the U.N. Convention Against Torture by failing to make torture a crime and prosecuting those who engage in it. Pesky laws don't fit with the image of unity and "looking forward" that the White House would like to maintain.
What makes this even more bizarre is that the "amnesty for torturers" decision came on the same day the administration made the good and decent decision to release the Bush administration's torture-approving memos. (Thanks to the ACLU, whose Freedom of Information Act lawsuit initiated the release.) So as it sinks in with us that our president will not lift a finger against the torturers, we get to read how nasty the torture actually was. Here are some of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized and practiced by Bush administration officials whom the Obama administration now promises to defend:
- Waterboarding (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month.)
- Forced nudity (including in front of female officers)
- Sleep deprivation up to 7 1/2 days
- Slapping prisoners on the face or abdomen
- Slamming a prisoner into a wall (aka "walling")
- Facial hold (I guess grabbing a prisoner by the face?)
- Cramped confinement for up to 18 hours
- Forced stress positions (standing, sitting, squatting, kneeling in uncomfortable ways for long periods of time)
- Insects placed with prisoner inside cramped confinement box
- Wall standing (prisoner leaned toward a wall to hold weight up with his fingers for a long time)
- Dietary manipulation (withholding solid food from prisoners)
- Spraying prisoners with cold water
- Combining and repeating above methods
As I write this, there is still some talk around the Web along the same lines as my earlier question:
Does Obama's amnesty for CIA officials leave the door open for prosecuting senior Bush officials?
Marc Ambinder, of The Atlantic, even quotes "senior administration officials" saying that there is no blanket immunity for all interrogators--just the ones who acted "in good faith" following the Justice Department's guidance. If that's true, then the door would also be open for prosecuting the big wigs. But until they are quoting people with actual names, I'm going to believe the White House Chief of Staff's comments on ABC.