Tuesday, 4 September 2012

"Look forward, not backward"

As a tribute to the great Democratic Party during its national convention, I will spend the next three days making a joyful noise upon a trumpet. Tonight’s Cantata: Barack Obama, the “Let’s All Be Loyal Americans and Forget About That Torture Thing-y” President.

Those current with Obamaspeak on the issue of torture will recognize the phrase in my headline as Obama’s summary argument for not pursuing criminal charges against the U.S. government officials who tortured prisoners to death, once thought to be a heinous act. The defense used by our Nobel Peace Prize winner is that rejected by the judges at Nuremberg: they were following orders.

As it happens, even that already flimsy brief is not true: the architects of the two best-known cases, just dropped by Attorney General Holder, went beyond the supposed ‘orders’ provided by John Yoo and the other Bush lawyers. Notwithstanding the legal acrobatics performed by W’s highly trained consiglieri, the still-unnamed perpetrators of these acts went beyond the vast leeway given to them, resulting, in the most notorious case, in death with a smiley face (that of Lynndie England [above] grinning over the corpse). Civilized society, which does not include the United States at present, was horrified. But only poor Lynndie and her gang did any time.

Obama said all along that it is more important to focus on what will happen in the future than what occurred in the past, and on this point I entirely agree albeit with a slight twist. Now that torture is an accepted part of the U.S. security toolkit insofar as practicing it will result in no punishment, we can look forward to its being applied with gusto whenever the occasion arises. That’s one part of the ‘future’ that apparently does not worry our citizens.

But the reverse is also true. If torture can be applied BY the U.S. military and its attendant intelligence services, it can and will be applied TO them as well. No one seems to have thought much about that.

I wonder what young kids in Wyoming and Indiana contemplating a stint in the army would think if their service included the possibility of being snatched by an enemy battalion and tortured under the Obama Doctrine. (After all, GIs might well know of drone missiles set to attack innocent civilians, which would then justify, under the Alan Dershowitz/’ticking time-bomb’ argument, whatever it takes to get the information out of them.) Given that these are now the rules of war, they should be informed in advance of what they are getting themselves into.

When such incidents occur, no doubt Americans everywhere will be outraged and demand revenge. But they will be hard pressed to demand legal accountability now that Obama has made torture just one of those unfortunate things that happen in war. Americans can no longer say the torture regime was an aberration, and for that we can thank the guy speaking on Thursday night.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks for this timely reminder.