U.S. still a nation of laws, not men?President Barack Obama, having released the official Bush administration policy directives on “enhanced interrogations” (known worldwide as torture), briefly admitted they showed “us losing our moral bearings” (April 21). But he will not prosecute CIA implementers of those policies. Nor will he call for an investigation of the high-level officials and Justice Department lawyers who authorized those excruciatingly detailed techniques. Why? Concerning them, “There are,” he says, “a host of very complicated issues involved.”
By: Nat Henthoff, First Amendment, The Jamestown Sun
President Barack Obama, having released the official Bush administration policy directives on “enhanced interrogations” (known worldwide as torture), briefly admitted they showed “us losing our moral bearings” (April 21). But he will not prosecute CIA implementers of those policies. Nor will he call for an investigation of the high-level officials and Justice Department lawyers who authorized those excruciatingly detailed techniques. Why? Concerning them, “There are,” he says, “a host of very complicated issues involved.”
Mr. President, allow me to uncomplicate — for you and other interested Americans — the actual, specific U.S. laws and international treaties the CIA has systematically violated during interrogation of terrorism suspects. But weren’t the CIA operators acting with legal approval from the very top of the chain of command?
On April 22, the Senate Armed Services Committee, after a very extended investigation, released an answer to that use of the Nuremberg Defense. (“We were following orders.)”
“The fact is,” the report made clear, “that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their memos legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
There was never a lawful basis for torture.
This, therefore, is the first of an intermittent series on what these war crimes were, and under which laws. In citing violations of international treaties we have signed and ratified, I remind the president that under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, “all treaties made, or which shall be made, under Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.”
To begin: The U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman Degrading Treatment or Punishment is the primary international law on torture. Signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988, it was ratified by the Senate in 1994. It states: “Each State Party (signatory) shall ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under its criminal law.” We have done that in the U.S. War Crimes Act (1996) and the Torture Victims Protection Act (1991).
The Convention Against Torture adds — very significantly for the current debate here — that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. ... An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.”
We have also signed the Geneva Conventions, whose Article 146 mandates that each contracting party “shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, grave breaches (of the Geneva Conventions) — and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts.”
Your hear that, Mr. President?
Moreover, Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which has been made part of our law, requires that any person — whether a prisoner of war, unprivileged belligerent, terrorist or noncombatant, is guaranteed freedom from “cruel treatment and torture” and “outrages up-on personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment,” in-cluding denial of process in case of trial.
These guarantees, Mr. President, apply “in all circumstances” and “at any time and in any place whatsoever.” Maybe when professor Barack Obama was teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago, he did not have an occasion to teach a course in international treaties that have become embedded in U.S. law.
And former constitutional law litigator Glenn Greenwald (Salon, April 17) reminds us of the Charter of the International Tribunal at Nuremberg (Article 8), in which we were involved. “The fact that the Defendant acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility, but may be considered in mitigation of punishment if the Tribunal determines that justice so requires.” But there WAS a much-praised tribunal at Nuremberg, and that defense didn’t work there.
With regard to the authorizing Justice Department lawyers who creatively invented ways to leap over these laws and treaties, professor Jordan Paust — in his essential book “Beyond the Law” (Cambridge University Press) — documents that “not since the Nazi era have so many lawyers been so clearly involved in international crimes concerning the treatment and interrogation of persons detained during war ...
“(These were lawyers) directly advising how to deny protections in the future, (and such) denials are violations of the laws of war and (of) war crimes.”
Paust adds: “The full truth about conspiratorial and complicit involvement, and the embrace of what (former) Vice President Cheney has correctly described as ‘the dark side,’ remains partly hidden.”
But, President Obama, more and more of the truth will break through because, as you said on April 16, “the United States is a nation of laws.” Yet you keep saying you prefer to “look forward and not engage in retribution.” Being believable again as a nation of laws is “retribution”?
As John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, promises (The New York Times, April 18): “If our leaders are found to have violated the strict laws against torture, either by ordering those techniques without proper legal authority or by knowingly crafting fictions to justify, they should be criminally prosecuted.”
To be continued.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.
Copyright 2009, Nat Hentoff.
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