Saturday, January 10, 2009

Legacy Thoughts, II

The Nation's blog reports that the number one question being asked on the Obama transition team's website is whether the new president will appoint a special prosecutor to probe into the matters of US government-sanctioned torture and illegal surveillance. As I contemplate the legacy being bequeathed to us by this most wretched of chief executives and his administration, surely the worst item--even worse than the senseless wars--is how this administration essentially legalized torture and domestic spying with slick, unscrupulous lawyers and constant pushing people's fear button. Justifying blatant violations of the Constitution by cloaking presidential misconduct and lawbreaking under the rubric of the powers of the commander-in-chief. I'm just now finishing a book, The Dark Side by Jane Mayer, that lays out the story of how this happened in all its disheartening detail. It is a disgusting chapter in our history, and we should be hanging our heads in shame.

But some of us aren't. Right wing nuts like Charles Krauthammer argue for exonerating everybody directly involved with torture because the country has been safe since 9/11 and "These people did what they did under orders and with patriotism." Read that again. This reasoning (politely so-called) is exactly the argument the US and the other allied powers repudiated when it was made by the Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg, a repudiation which became a foundational principle in international law. Glen Greenwald in this usual incisive fashion demolishes this argument. His piece also points out that almost 100 detainees lost their lives while in US custody, and to this day over three dozen people believed held by the US have simply disappeared, their whereabouts and fates unknown. See here and here.

This is an outrage, but to tell the truth, I'm not expecting the Obama administration to prosecute anybody for these crimes. I've already seen enough of what "bi-partisanship" means to doubt that the new president will pursue justice. This little matter of torture can be swept under the rug in the glare of the economic crisis. Obama seems pitifully intent on securing the support of the Republicans. And we wouldn't want to do anything to upset them, would we?
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