After a U-turn by President Obama, it would seem we (yes, I sometimes use the U.S. we) have reached the point of actually contemplating criminal responsibility for systematically authorizing torture of “War on Terror” detainees. It would seem that once again the flawed-but-awesome Freedom of Information Act, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the bizarre nature of the state, which must both record everything and make up completely implausible justifications along the way, all deserve part of the credit. The camel’s-back-breaking straw seems to be this footnote in the May 30, 2005 memo:
The CIA used the waterboard “at least 83 times during August 2002” in the interrogation of Zubaydah. IG Report at 90, and 183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of K[halid] S[haikh] M[ohammed], see id. at 91. (May 30, 2005 memo available from the ACLU)
As the paper trail is taken out from under a Bush administration coverup, we’re going to have to rewrite the entire narrative. In the process, we seem to be undergoing a moral transformation as well. As British reporter Phillippe Sands narrates it:
With a wide-ranging Spanish criminal investigation into torture at Guantánamo threatening to embarrass the US, Barack Obama decided to declassify legal memos sent under the Bush administration in the hope the country would move on. The opposite has happened. Ever more documents set out in meticulous detail the full extent of the cruelty: who was abused by whom, how they did it and what was done. The truth has been revealed in stark detail, from the number of times waterboarding was used to the legal deliberations that led to it. By Tuesday, President Obama had raised the possibility of US war crimes trials and far-reaching inquiries, developments that were unthinkable a month ago. (The Observer)
I’m not as hopeful that we’re really at a turning point on torture, as revealed by the unimpressive and unmoving poll results this week.
Currently, nearly half say the use of torture [“in order to gain important information”] is often (15%) or sometimes (34%) justified; about the same proportion believes that the torture of suspected terrorists is rarely (22%) or never (25%) justified.
However, public exposure of the realities of Guantanamo, Bagram, the CIA Black Sites, and Clinton-initiated extraordinary rendition, can only be useful in transforming Americans into the morally aware creatures we have the capacity to be. [Homework assignment in that direction: listen to Maher Arar, the Canadian computer programmer “we” rendered to Syria describe his detention, torture, and its effect on his life. The compare “cramped confinement” as authorized in the 2002 and 2005 memos.] We might emerge with a bit less fear of the rest of the world and a lot less confidence in our (and our government’s) righteousness. If only the moral transformation would extend to the torture in our regular prisons and immigration detention centers…