Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Reaction to Jane Mayer's The Dark Side

By Nancy Jane Moore

I've just finished reading Jane Mayer's detailed and disturbing study of the Bush Administration's torture policies, The Dark Side, and I've got just one thing to say about all the officials who came up with these policies or applied them or sat by and let them take effect:

Prosecute 'em. All of 'em. Indict the CIA agents who handled the "extraordinary renditions" and actually tortured people. Make the people who had prisoners die in their custody explain what happened. Go after the people who let the clearly innocent be locked up and mistreated for years.

But especially investigate the people at the top, the high deputies and assistants who developed the policies, the cabinet members who either kept quiet or signed off on them, the lawyers who wrote top secret memos asserting that torture was legal, the Vice President of the United States.

Speaking as a lawyer, I say particularly go after the lawyers -- David Addington, John Yoo, Jim Haynes, Alberto Gonzales and many others. They swore an oath to uphold the Constitution when they were admitted to the bar. At a minimum, their bar associations should investigate their actions and determine whether they violated their oath and should be disbarred.

I don't just want them prosecuted because the policies as described by Mayer violated the U.S. Constitution, as well as U.S. and international law. I don't even want them prosecuted just because the actions were horrible and immoral. I also want them prosecuted because the actions were absurd and stupid and made the U.S. and the world much less safe while leading us into a disastrous war.

My brother-in-law, who teaches physics, says that he begins each school year by asking his students, "Why do you believe what you believe?" It's his way of introducing them to the scientific method, where you do experiments to find facts, and use those facts to figure out the truth.

The same sort of process should apply in law, particularly in criminal investigations, and also in gathering intelligence for national defense reasons. Get the facts, and then analyze the facts to determine the truth.

Instead Dick Cheney and his henchman Addington decided in advance what the truth was, and limited themselves to facts that supported it. And Bush and all the macho pseudocowboys at all levels of the administration (male and female, according to Mayer) jumped on the bandwagon, talking tough and ignoring any facts that contradicted their worldview.

We must prosecute these people because we need to send a message that the takeover of our government by zealots like Addington will not be tolerated, and that decisionmaking will be done rationally, by examining the facts and figuring out the truth. And we must prosecute them because their actions undermined our national principles and truly threaten the American way of life.

We have to clear the air, to make certain that everyone -- all of us here in the U.S. and the world as a whole -- knows that we do not tolerate these actions. Otherwise, someone else down the road will resurrect them and justify it by citing the Bush years.

We also need to know the facts, as many facts as we can get. A prosecution, after all, if conducted properly, is a way to establish the facts and come at the truth. I am advocating the classic legal process here -- not the kind of persecutions that Mayer documents in her book. A few bad guys will probably slip through the cracks, but with luck we'll nail most of the people responsible for the real harm. And maybe even some of them will be able to defend themselves.

I know it will be expensive, and that Bush is leaving the country in financial tatters on so many fronts. I know we have many other important things to do -- addressing climate change and health care, just to name two crucial things neglected for years -- along with solving the obvious economic and foreign policy problems.

But the Bush approval of torture and all the related horrors goes to the very heart of who we are. Unless we face what these people have done in our name, while so many sat idly by, we will leave a flaw at the heart of our country, one that will come back to haunt us.

[cross posted on Open Salon]

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