Thursday, April 23, 2009

Torture and Sleeping Dogs

By the end of the week, there will be more interesting and perhaps shocking documents that will be reviewed as the Obama administration determines the extent to which torture was used by the Bush administration. Since the investigations began, I have been somewhat concerned that in an attempt to be transparent the Obama administration might be creating precedent that will undoubtedly prove a tough act to follow. Regardless of the system of governance in any country, I can almost unequivocally admit that torture as a form of coercion is always employed. Even when the victim of the oppressive method isn't a foreign national there are still subtle forms of torture used in most interrogations.

Beginning this week, the Obama administration launched a series of investigations backed by the ACLU and other civil liberties groups around the issue of torture and particularly water boarding used as a tool of coercion by the past administration. If Obama moves forward with a thorough investigation, he will be making good on his promise of transparency. Nonetheless, he will be reneging on his promise of not awakening old ghosts.

It is an open secret that the United States has used torture methods against perceived terrorists and other antagonists. Tales from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay are proof that human rights injustices are a common thread in the way Americans treat perceived law breakers. The story of John Walker Lindh as narrated in a recent issue of GQ magazine gives a glimpse into how the American government will and have treated antagonists.

There are several cases in which the need to use a form of torture, however subtle come into play. If the United States were to capture Osama bin Laden, the administration will be hard pressed to not employ some means of torture in extracting useful intelligence information from him. Obviously, bin Laden will be prosecuted by the United States legal system should he be brought to trial and not in an International Criminals Court. Hence, with the duty of prosecuting him, the United States will want to build a strong case against him and if it entails starving him or using waterboarding as a means to an end, who is to say what entails torture? I am not making the argument for or against torture, but rather building a case that shows that torture regardless of how subtle is routine.

Already, former Vice-President Dick Cheney has spoken on the issue and maintains that his administration's use of torture was pertinent to national security and was useful in warding of a supposed attack. While Cheney's claims are incredible, I will be interested in a study that shows how the attack he refers to was directly intercepted through means of torture. Nonetheless, I am convinced that when the Bush administratin acted, they did so in the perceived best interest of the American people. So, as the investigations proceed, the future of several individuals will be at stake. From top aides within the government to pundits in academia, heads will roll.

Many have already advised that the investigations be stopped and that if at all an independent panel should be brought in to review the allegations. If the investigations continue, it is possible that top aides in the Bush administration will be subpoenaed and possibly face imminent jail time if convicted. Hence, as the Obama administration makes such bold moves, they need to make sure their rear guard is up at all times. While the use of torture should be evaluated on a case by case basis, there is some wisdom that can be garnered in President Ford's decision to pardon his predecessor Richard Nixon. Obama is not yet a hundred days into his administration. But, the world is becoming increasingly volatile and as long as he remains in office he will make his own mistakes and someday face the possibility of been held accountable by an administration yet unborn.

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