Before addressing the legal/semantic mess we’ve built for ourselves, ponder with me an odd quote from Cuba’s Raul Castro.
Last week, Castro said he’s willing to discuss a wide range of issues with President Barack Obama — “human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners, everything.”
Maybe an interpreter put words in his mouth. But: “political prisoners”? No self-respecting dictator calls his prisoners that. Traitors. Spies. Enemies of the people. That’s what a dictator says.
This brings up the subject of what a nation posing as leader of the free world says when accused of abusing human rights. Surely it’s not: “Torture? Whatever you call it.”
Sure, some are saying that techniques including waterboarding, sleep deprivation of up to 11 days, slamming a prisoner against a wall and introducing insects into confined spaces are not torture.
Others are saying, “So what? We got the information we wanted.”
That’s no defense, says retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern. Rather, it’s the problem — bad information elicited under extreme duress.
McGovern, speaking in Waco last week, said the covert operations arm of the agency he served proudly from Kennedy through George H.W. Bush effectively gave a president “his own personal Gestapo.”
That is manifest in the Feb. 7, 2002, White House memo headed “Humane Treatment of Detainees.” It actually authorizes grossly inhumane techniques.
As McGovern spoke, the Obama administration was releasing CIA torture memos and saying it would not prosecute agents whom it believed had operated within parameters set by higher-ups.
That made big news. What didn’t get much attention was this: A judge in Spain issued warrants for six former Justice Department officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for rubber-stamping the use of torture on Guantanamo Bay detainees. Spanish law gives its courts jurisdiction beyond national borders in cases of torture and war crimes based on a doctrine known as universal justice.
The judge, Baltazar Garzon, is the same one who issued an arrest warrant for former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet for killing and torturing prisoners.
Spain’s government, likely under pressure from ours, says it doesn’t support or intend to help facilitate Garzon’s warrants.
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York this week called for the impeachment of federal Judge Jay Bybee, who while an attorney under Gonzales helped parse the legalese behind what our proxies did to prisoners.
McGovern said it is absurd to focus on the lawyers when evidence points to direct authorization by President Bush and his innermost circle.
Many months ago, I wrote that impeachment of Bush and Dick Cheney was the answer — not necessarily to remove anyone from office but to question them under oath about alleged abuses. They’re all out of office. What now?
A New York Times editorial echoed Nadler’s call for Bybee’s impeachment, but within the framework of a search for the truth “after eight years without transparency or accountability.” The Washington Post editorially called for an investigation comparable to the 9/11 Commission.
Truth and accountability. It is sadly comical to think of out-of-work Al Gonzales or one of his former lieutenants as the big fish in this operation.
For a nation that has been the world’s foremost voice on human rights now to be so mute about something so counter to its principles is an embarrassment.
Ray McGovern says he came to work at the CIA headquarters every day under the John 8:32 inscription: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
Just who was that “you”?
John Young’s column appears Thursday, Sunday and occasionally Tuesday. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We should never accept inhumane treatment of prisoners and never rationalize it by what others do