Friday, January 23, 2009

See how easy that was?

George W. Bush liked to call himself the Decider. He was big on his "gut." He didn't care what people thought of him. And yet, for 8 years, he was unable to do something as simple as define torture and make certain everyone knew we did not do it.

Just two days after assuming office, President Obama showed how easy it is to lead on the issue of whether or not America tortures. Obama signed 4 Executive Orders on Thursday which puts the issue to rest. Under the EOs:
the CIA’s interrogators cannot question detainees using “any interrogation
technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not
authorized by and listed in Army Field Manual 2 22.3.” That manual was rewritten
by the Army in 2006 to reemphasize its compliance with the Geneva Conventions
and U.S. laws banning torture. The Bush administration took an unyielding stance
toward exempting CIA interrogations from that manual and those laws. But the
Obama administration revoked all Bush administration executive orders from
September 11, 2001 onward “concerning detention or the interrogation of detained
individuals,” and directed the attorney general to conduct a thorough review of
all other “directives, orders, and regulations” on the subject issued by the
Bush administration that are no longer applicable.

Obama further instructed the military to close
Guantanamo Bay within a year. A different executive order empanelled
a cabinet-level task force to determine what should be done with the roughly 245
detainees still held at the Cuban naval base, as well as determining “lawful
options for the disposition of individuals captured or apprehended in connection
with armed conflicts and counterterrorism operations” in the future.
This is a big deal. As Ret. Major General Paul Eaton said on tv last night, "seven years without a trial is wrong." And for those who say there you go being soft on terrorists, lets not forget something: they are "suspected terrorists." We already know we had to release some of the detainees held in Gitmo and subject to our "not torture" techniques, because --surprise--they weren't terrorists. Denial of Due Process isn't just wrong, it is unAmerican. It's the biggest victory al Queda could have and the last administration handed it to them.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), in discussing these EOs, brought up an interesting item. He noted that when Obama was an Illinois state senator, Obama wrote a law requiring all police interrogations to be videotaped, which Holt has long argued should be standard CIA and military practice as well. He's absolutely right. I clerked for Joe McCulloch in law school. McCulloch is one of the best criminal lawyers in SC and the attorney who founded the Palmetto Innocence Project, South Carolina's chapter of the national Innocence Project, an organization that represents the wrongfully convicted.

Anyway, when I was there, Joe was pushing two things on the Richland and Lexington County Law Enforcement Agencies: sequential photo arrays and videotaping of interviews. As far as the videotaping, the story was always the same. The cops were reluctant as hell to do it everywhere it has been implemented. But within a year or two, every single agency admitted it was a great idea. What they found out, was that memorializing the entire process on video actually helped their cases. Its hard for a defense attorney to attack your interview process as being coercive, if it is obvious on video that it was not. Reading this reminds me I wanted to send the packet we used back then to Sheriff Boone.

As Sen. Russ Feingold stated, “President Obama’s first days in office have been a triumph for the rule of law."

Word, Russ. Word.

Keep that in mind, as we continue to hear about the crazy shit that has gone on the last 8 years. You know, like the spying on journalists.


Mike Reino said...

Hey Hey... There were 3 trials !!

Cheesefrog said...

I've got mixed feelings about this torture business. I mean, yeah sure I'm against it as a general practice. It should never be SOP. But I have to admit that there are certain situations where the concept doesn't bother me. Let's do the hypothetical- say someone has my wife or daughter and I have someone who knows where they are. I'm going Jack Bauer on the dude to find out what I need to know. I'm sure as hell not going to make him listen to Barney and hope he cracks.

I just wonder... if there is a nuke that's set to go off in an hour in a major U.S. city- let's just say Chicago for example, and we have a terrorist (no, not Bill Ayers this time) in custody who knows where it is. Does Obama authorize a little lagniappe for the guy, or does he let a hundred thousand or so people die rather than compromise his principles?

I'm not being sarcastic, I'm really wondering. It's easy to talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?

pluvlaw said... all candor, I think the real mark of us as a country is contained in your comment. We talk a lot about believing in the ideals of freedom and liberty, being a nation of laws. But when are backs are against the wall, do we throw all that out the window?

I honestly think that's why the President's oath doesn't say a thing about protecting Americans, it talks about protecting a piece of paper that we all say we believe in. In the grand scheme of things, people will come and go. We will die. What will we leave behind? What will they say we stood for?

The problem with your hypo, is how do we "know" the terrorist knows? It's a trick hypo. If we have the ability to have that knowledge, then we have the ability to acquire it sooner and not be placed in that position. But it will take just as much commitment NOW to invest in and sacrifice for the means to obtain that intelligence, than it would take a willingness THEN to throw away all that we stand for.

Its like the old Dukakis question when he was asked about the death penalty for someone who raped his wife. The true answer there was, "Your damn right I'd want them dead. Which is exactly why we have the system we have. What if I'm wrong?"

Let's not lose sight of the fact that we've survived for 230+ years by sticking to our ideals, not by abandoning them. I think walking the walk is exactly what Obama is proposing we do.

Cheesefrog said...

I understand what you're saying, but it wasn't meant to be a trick hypo. In my scenario I'm assuming that the subject has admitted to having knowledge but won't divulge it. I know that sounds pretty convenient, but hey it's my hypo so I'm writing the script. :-)

I guess my real point was to ask if there is EVER a time that one's ideals go out the window. By asking the question I'm asking it of myself as well. And I have to admit that there is a point, even if it's a trick hypo situation, where I think I would go against what I normally consider to be right. I would just as soon not be faced with a situation where I find out.

I agree that we need to lead by example. But I don't buy the notion that we've followed our stated ideals for all but 8 years of this country's existence. I'm going to guess that we've been roughing up people on a pretty regular basis for the duration of those 230+ years, with and without the president's knowledge.

It's not inconceivable that there could come a day when Obama is faced with a situation where he'll have to consider saying the words "Do whatever it takes." That would be the day when we (the prez included) actually find out if it's walk or talk. That is, if we ever know about it.

pluvlaw said...

I guess the beauty of the system is that the laws should make someone stop us when we reach that point.

History is full of stories where some of the world's greatest leaders suffered losses for the greater good. Whether its the question of whether we knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor before it happened or if Roosevelt let it happen so public opinion would be behind getting involved.

Or Churchill knowing about raids during the Battle of Britain but now wanting to tip off that ENIGMA had been broken.

Whether or not those stories are true (and most info seems to indicate they are not), these stories are usually used to show what great leaders these men were and the painful choices they had to make to prevail in a greater battle.

Well...if our battle is against "terror," than the greater battle really is against our way of life. If that's the case, I would hope our President would look at that bigger picture. But maybe my view is a lot easier sitting down here in South Carolina and not in the NY-NJ area. But I do have a nuke plant less than 45 minutes from the hacienda.