Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chris Matthews explores war crimes and the Bush administration.

The question of whether or not the Bush regime should be investigated for war crimes really has broken into the national consciousness when Chris Matthews starts discussing it.

Frank Gaffney argues that, were the Obama administration to do so, the US would be reduced to the status of, "a banana republic". I would argue the opposite. To allow admitted war crimes to remain not even investigated, never mind prosecuted, is to emulate the behaviour of banana republics.

I also note that none of these Republicans ever make the argument, "Investigate all you will, we have nothing to fear." Quite the opposite. Their fear is palpable. Which is why they are threatening political Armageddon if this goes ahead.


There's a great article in Truth Out by Phillip Neal Butler which reminds us of the fact that all US government officials take a vow to defend the constitution of the United States and that the members of Congress will be failing in that vow if they allow the actions of the Bush administration to go unpunished.

During these years, we have seen gross attempts to institutionalize torture. Our Constitution, Article VI, (2), commonly known as the "Supremacy" clause, clearly states that treaties made shall become "the supreme law of the land," thus elevating them to the level of constitutional law.

The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, ratified in 1949, states in Article 17, "No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind." This and numerous other ratified treaties clearly stipulate that "prisoners" is an inclusive term that is not limited to any nation's uniformed combatants.

Other gross Bush administration crimes, in addition to authorizing torture, of general and constitutional law include: 1) the use of "signing statements" to illegally refrain from complying with laws, 2) authorization of the illegal suspension of Habeas Corpus, 3) authorization of wire tapping and other intrusive methods to illegally spy on American citizens, 4) unilateral declaration and pre-emptive conduct of war in violation of US Constitution Article I, Section 8 (11).

And he is very clear about who he thinks should be prosecuted.
I, therefore, call on my elected representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives to bring criminal charges against President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, legal counsel William J. Haynes, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former legal counsel David Addington, and potentially other high officials and uniformed officers. There is no other option if you are to carry out your responsibilities.
There really is no longer any question as to whether or not these crimes took place, as both Bush and Cheney have publicly admitted them. The only remaining question is whether members of the US Congress take seriously the vow they made to defend and uphold the constitution.


I have been asked to post this open letter to Chris Matthews which has been written by Lynndie England's biographer:

Dear Chris,

I was encouraged to hear you bring up the torture question on your show (Friday, January 23, 2009) You raised the question of accountability and asked whether it would be fair to allow the Bush Administration a free pass, while the convictions of those implicated in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal (you mentioned Lynndie England specifically) are allowed to stand. Surprisingly, one of your guests repeated the old line that the abuses perpetrated at Abu Ghraib were just the work of “a few bad apples” and that “all subsequent reports” show this to be true. Which begs the question: Does the American media read what has been reported in the media? Does it acknowledge the broader international view, or are we so provincial that we only believe what simply sounds like the truth?

It is shocking when one takes into account all that has come to light since the incident at Abu Ghraib first broke in April of 2004, not the least of which is the recent Senate Armed Services Report, which condemns the Bush Administration for its blatant abrogation of the Geneva Conventions. For years we Americans have become familiar with our government’s justification of torture. We’ve been told over and over that guys like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were really bad and that their rough treatment was warranted. However, the sad fact is that more than “a few bad apples” were water-boarded, tortured and even killed in the interrogation process prescribed by our government.

The lurid photographs taken at the Abu Ghraib prison may be the only photographic evidence we have that such abuse took place in Iraq and Afghanistan; but the photos are merely representative of a far more pervasive program of abuse and humiliation that was carried out by the military as it (we) sought to avenge the events of 9/11. Indeed, as court documents, trial testimony and other evidence show, the Bush Administration’s torture policy and other improvised adaptations of the same was being implemented, not just at Guantanamo, but at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, as well as at other detention facilities throughout Iraq. Yes, water-boarding was used on more than just the few individuals admitted to by former Vice President Dick Cheney. And yes, like the photos taken at Abu Ghraib, these few examples are only representative of a pattern of abuse that was approved by the Bush White House and implemented by intelligence gatherers working in the field.

And yet to this day no one connected with our government and/or its torture policies has been accused of water-boarding, nor has anyone been charged with the deaths of those individuals who were murdered as a result the interrogation process. (Manadel al Jimadi, et al) Instead, a few young reservists (“bad apples”) connected with the 372nd Military Police Company were sacrificially offered up to satisfy our curiosity. Investigations were conducted, military trials convened and sentences handed down; but not one of the individuals implicated in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal were charged with the water-boarding or the death of a prisoner. For her crime (posing in photographs in a place where photography was prohibited) Lynndie England received three years in a military prison.

To address the larger question of torture; the problem is not just a thorny political topic to be tackled by our new president. Indeed, the whole world is watching and wants to know if president Obama is going to make good on his campaign promise to forge better relationships through honesty and transparency. The inconvenient truth is, of course, that we can’t expect the rest of the world to sit back and say, “let’s move on.” Water-boarding is a criminal act outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, a body of international law that we as a nation have upheld and defended since its inception. Throughout our most recent history we have vigorously advocated bringing to justice those individuals accused of crimes against humanity (the Nazis, Slobodan Milosevic, etc.) Indeed, time and time again, we have upheld the honor of all civilized nations, and not just when it was convenient for us to do so.

The closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is an important first step in the process of disclosure; but if we think that the rest of the world will be appeased by this gesture, were are mistaken. Indeed, if the stories that are only beginning to emerge from those detainees recently released from Guantanamo and elsewhere are any indication, the war crimes committed by the Bush Administration will have to be dealt with judiciously and to the satisfaction of others before the Obama administration can hope to have better relations with the rest of the world. In the meantime, Lynndie England and the others convicted in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal would like their voices to be heard as well. They too would like to see justice served. No, you can’t let the architects of torture elude prosecution and allow the underlings to hang for the crime. That is not justice we can believe in.

Gary Winkler
Lynndie England’s Biographer


Steel Phoenix said...

They all make good points here. Obama should put people on all the records of the previous administration, publishing everything that doesn't threaten an ongoing project. Let the public outrage lead them to what needs to be prosecuted, and do so. They really do need to avoid starting up any trials they aren't nearly certain to win.

Thanks for the link. The supremacy clause and the Geneva Convention do seem plenty clear to me.

Kel said...

SP, you make good points. "Public outrage" should be used to stir the call for prosecution.

The fact that crimes have been committed is crystal clear, but the administration have to be careful to avoid the obvious trap of appearing partisan.