Monday, April 20, 2009

An open letter to President Obama

UPDATE (April 21): Perhaps things aren't quite so bleak on this front after all. But the letter's argument seems no less true to me.

Below the fold (to spare the uninterested) is the text of a letter I have sent to the White House in response to the news that the Obama administration will not seek to prosecute the writers of the Bush administration's "torture memos."

I feel compelled to express my dismay in the strongest possible terms that the current administration will not seek to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the ordering, writing and implementation of the so-called torture memos. It is a matter of national and international law and treaty that the United States, at the highest levels of the Executive Branch, was in deliberate violation of the law as a result of the production of these memos. Moreover, I understand that this administration, in its refusal to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these memos, is ALSO in violation of those same national and international laws and treaties.

These facts transcend politics and, despite the understandable desire to avoid a protracted and painful examination of these matter, it is not at all clear to me how this decision aids the United States in restoring its standing in the world as a nation that abides by the rule of law--which no one is supposed to be above . Not only did the Bush administration seriously compromise our nation's moral standing as an advocate of human rights with its adoption of torture as a legally-sanctioned and -rationalized option, this decision by the current administration essentially tells the world that, despite its public statements declaring outrage and repugnance with regard to these memos and what was done in their name, they do not merit more than these verbals slaps on the wrist. This can only have the effect of rendering torture the very thing its proponents strongly imply: that its use is a matter of policy and thus permitted according to the whim of whoever happens to be President, rather than a crime against human dignity and decency of the most odious sort as, again, declared in numerous domestic and international codes and to which our nation is a signatory and has in the past insisted that other nations be judged by. The application of law thus becomes arbitrary, at best; at worst, not investigating and prosecuting clear, undisputed laws is the worst sort of precedent for the Executive Branch--that branch of the government tasked with ENFORCING THE LAW--to be setting.

We are better than this. This--the actions of both the previous administration and the current one (it is extremely difficult not to see this administration's decision not to prosecute as anything other than tacitly aiding and abetting the actions of the previous one; hence this administration becomes complicit with the actions of the past one)--runs completely counter to our nation's history, from before the time the United States was even a nation, in fact, given General George Washington's directive to his soldiers to treat British prisoners humanely. I did not loudly and proudly support Mr. Obama's candidacy because I entertained any possibility that an Obama administration would make a decision like this. But I say that not out of partisan ire directed at the Bush administration but out of a love and admiration and respect for our nation's hard-won reputation in the world as an advocate of the principles of human rights and the rule of law. That reputation suffered serious damage under the previous administration, and I'm very sorry to say that I simply cannot see how this decision in any way begins to repair that damage. I daresay that, as far as I can tell, it may only make that damage worse.


Jim Sligh said...

To hear EL PAÍS tell it this morning, Obama has "opened the door" to investigations into those who authorized torture - I was about to write a hopeful little blog post.

Am I to understand that the feeling on the domestic front is that different from the way the international news is spinning it? I haven't read an American paper in a while.

ps. I meant to write earlier, but I'm glad to see you back at your blog.

John B. said...

You read correctly in El Pais, and (in this country's media) there's considerable push-back from those who (still), for whatever reason, feel obligated to support those decisions. Obama is deferring the question of prosecution to the Attorney General . . . who during confirmation hearings made it clear that simply re-defining what is/is not torture will not cut legal ice with him. We'll see. I'm hopeful as well.

That said, there's also the inescapable fact that, at the time all this was going on, Democrats on the committees briefed on all this were, through various sins of omission and, perhaps, even commission, complicit in the perpetuation of these very policies. Hence a brief post I'll be throwing up that says that lots of Democrats need to own up to their own responsibility--precisely for the purpose of not turning this into the partisan debate that some argue this is.

And thanks for the welcome back.

Gaia gardener said...

Excellent letter. Thanks for sharing it.

sekanblogger said...

In my humble opinion the torture issue should be pushed, but only after we get to the crime(s) that made it possible. We need look no farther than the infamous "White Papers" to see the real crime. That is, the cooked evidence to go to war. For those that don't know, the white papers are the Bush admins altered intelligence reports, as presented to the UN and thus the whole world. The ACTUAL intelligence has since been declassified. A comparison of the two is all that one needs.
Gee, guess I should make my own post on this one, huh?