On Saturday, Philip Gourevitch published an editorial in the NY Times (here) that perhaps offers the most comprehensive defense of Obama’s recent decision not to release photos of prisoners being abused in Guatanamo, Bagram Air Force Base and Abu Ghraib. In essence, his point is that there is nothing new in these pictures, but that they would serve as a virtual media packet for those looking to recruit a new wave of terrorists. This hews fairly closely to Obama’s rationale for changing his mind, but somehow it carries a little more credibility for me, since Gourevitch isn’t being motivated by fear of political blowback. Furthermore, Gourevitch’s work in “We Regret to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families” on the Rwandan genocide gives me a certain amount of confidence in his motives.
I have to say that before reading this, I was largely disappointed by Obama’s decision, but within the larger context of his administration seemingly being unable to untangle the mess of Guantanamo and form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of some kind to deal with the legacy of the Bush II era. We shall see. He still has time, though I feel that the Democrats are still far too quick to cave into Republican fear mongering about anything to do with National Security and terrorism, but it is less clear with Obama.
More than anything, I feel that Obama needs to lead his party and the country past the mentality of 9/11 and the Bush years by providing a comprehensive vision about how to make this happen. Perhaps, Obama’s decision about the pictures would be less frustrating for the left and the human rights crowd (of which I include myself), if Obama didn’t seem so determined to maintain other aspects of the Bush approach, such as the state secrets’ privilege, the use of military commissions, and indefinite detentions.
Only time will tell. For now, I at least feel like I can let the issue around the pictures go and look forward to reading Gourevitch’s book on Abu Ghraib.
The Daily Mail had the first interview with Binyam Mohamed (here) since he was freed from Guantanamo. The UK Daily Mail released the full transcript of the interview today after running a teaser of sorts on Sunday (here). Andy Worthington, the author of the book The Guantanamo Files, has his take on the interview and events since his release on his site (here).
All of it paints a damning picture of how Binyam Mohamed was treated during his seven years of captivity and the extend to which the British aided and abetted torture against suspected terrorists.
To quote from Andy Worthington’s piece:
Most worryingly for the British government, he has also revealed more of the British role in his interrogations by the Americans’ proxy torturers in Morocco than has previously been publicly available, which will only add to the pressure on the government to explain its role in actively gathering intelligence obtained through torture, rather than hiding behind blanket statements that “We never condone or authorize the use of torture.”
In the wake of his lawyers’ long struggle to secure the facts about Binyam’s case, this is a claim that looks increasingly evasive and untenable, especially in light of more recent revelations that the British intelligence services regularly feed questions to Pakistani interrogators, in the cases of British suspects seized in Pakistan, even though they are aware that the Pakistani authorities use torture, and also with reference to comments made last week by Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan.”
All of it is worth reading for anyone trying to keep up with one of the more compelling cases regarding the UK’s involvement in the War on Terror. The picture it paints isn’t pretty, but nor should it be given what happened.
John Yoo, one of the main legal architects of Bush’s torture defense, had the audacity to publish an editorial in the Wall Street Journal critiquing Obama’s decision to suspend the CIA’s special authority to interrogate terrorists, claiming that it will “seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Really? I think Mr. Yoo needs to stop watching ’24’ reruns and think about why most of the world sees Guantanamo as anything but a success.
How a law professor at UC Berkeley, a position that Yoo somehow managed to score after leaving the Department of Justice in 2003, can have so little respect for the US Constitution is astonishing. If John Yoo really believes that “the civilian law-enforcement system cannot prevent terrorist attacks” and that the only way to do so is to stoop to their level, then he is the one that is incredibly naive.
The shamelessness of it all. If anything, Yoo should be preparing for his debarment, rather than penning editorials for the WSJ about how much Obama has to learn about governing. Considering that Yoo stated that “eliminating the Bush system will mean that we will get no more information from captured al Qaeda terrorists. Every prisoner will have the right to a lawyer (which they will surely demand), the right to remain silent, and the right to a speedy trial” then he surely doesn’t deserve to keep the right to practice law. These are not mere procedural details or niceties, they are the foundations upon which the entire American criminal justice system has been built up on.
It will be interesting to see if Yoo’s tune changes over time as the Republican base continues to shrink, while the Democrats majorities grow. The Rule of Law is too important to sacrifice out of fear. If the US does give in any more than it already has, then 9/11’s fallout will have been truly greater than anyone could have imagined.
Nicholas Kristof’s new editorial, “Putting Torture Behind Us,” highlights all the right reasons why Obama needs to investigate what has happened at Guantanamo over the last seven years. I agree with Kristof that the financial crisis should not be used as a reason not to deal with this shameful chapter of American history. However, I disagree with Kristof’s calling for a bipartisan panel, rather than some type of truth commission with supoena powers to call witnesses and the ability to sentence people found guilty of having commited a human rights violation.
Kristof also goes off topic by calling for Guantanamo to either be turned back over to the Cubans or to be transformed into a research center against tropical diseases. Both fine ideas, but out of place in an article that asks for the US to reckon with what has been done in its name. Instead, I would have preferred the article to discuss how Guantanamo was part of a larger pattern of abuses that took place at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and various secret prisons/black sites during the war on terror.
I do think that Kristof’s reminder that the US has often trampled civil liberties and human rights – the Palmer Raids (WWI), the Japanese internment camps (WWII) and McCarthyism (Cold War) – is extremely pertinent. Ironically, this pattern would seem to show that the US has been reluctant to learn from its mistakes. Perhaps with Obama this pattern will be broken, but not without a serious push from the general public. Prosecuting those responsible for shredding the US Constitution and violating human rights agreements would be a good place to start in my book.