16 January 2009

Truth And Reconciliation Or A New Nuremberg?

With the Bush administration having spent and mismanaged us into a dangerously close encounter with national bankruptcy, with two far from won and possibly unwinnable wars still confronting us, a collapsing infrastructure, a demoralized military, and a growing underclass, you'd think the incoming Obama administration had enough on its plate without making a priority out of redressing some of the more egregious behavior engaged in by its predecessor.

And that's how I suspect they will see it as well, but there's a substantial chorus of critics, mostly on the left, who feel, as does David Cole, that we need to focus our attention on ferreting out and punishing those who authorized physical abuse or, if you will, torture, to be used in the now increasingly discredited War On Terror. And while my first reaction was, "Oh, let it go already, give up the Bush years as a bad mistake and move on," his article What To Do About The Torturers? makes a fairly intriguing case.

I do think it's a bit unbalanced: while he goes into great and disturbing detail about what exactly was done to the detainees, he skates rather quickly over what some of them did or were prepared to do. One of his showpieces, for example, is generally believed to have been "the 20th hijacker," who, barring having been stopped at the border, would have helped fly a plane into the World Trade Center.

But at the same time he paints such a damning picture of the likes of Donald Rumsfeld:

In signing that memo, which approved sixteen coercive tactics, including forcing suspects to stand for up to four hours straight, Rumsfeld scribbled in the margin, "I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?" As that comment itself suggests, these documents chillingly underscore the mundane banality with which cruelty and torture became official policy of the United States Department of Defense.
that it's hard not to go along with his contention that something needs to be done about these people, if only to purge our national history of this deviation and ensure that it doesn't happen again.

He ends up coming down - if only just - on the side of something more closely resembling South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission than the Nuremberg-style war crime trials that some critics would like to see brought against American officials up to and including Vice-President Cheney and President Bush himself.

Recognizing - if slightly regretfully - that such trials are almost a political impossibility, Cole plumps for the next best thing: hearings at which the responsible parties would be exposed and denounced. Although I'm still not convinced that this needs to be the first, or even the third or fourth priority for the new administration, after reading his article I'm inclined to think he may have a point.


Mike said...

"I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?". This is a "chilling" underscore? Really. While I'm sure that statement has made more than one person jump out of their Birkenstocks, it can't possibly be the most "chilling" example of indifference to torture Mr. Cole has come across in his research. Can it? I do not favor torture and I understand the media's obsession with it when the US is accused of it. What I don't understand is the inability to distinguish between discomfort and actual torture. That sounds a bit unfeeling, possibly, but I have stood for over 4 hours straight on quite a few occasions. Not fun. Not torture either. Perhaps if we told them they were earning $8 an hour standing there it would cease to be torture. I agree with the post. It's the David Cole quote that steams my mustache.

Larry Livermore said...

Paul Krugman is not in favor of forgiving and forgetting, and makes a good case to that effect.

Larry Livermore said...

Then again, maybe he's just mad that he didn't get nominated for a Cabinet position...