Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Moving on" = Stuck

It looks as though the Spanish courts will soon be putting the Obama administration on the spot: to either hand over six officials of the Bush administration who played critical roles in constructing the legal framework of the US government's use of torture-- or to begin a criminal inquiry of its own. The Guardian reports that

The officials named in the case include the most senior legal minds in the Bush administration. They are: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney's chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon's general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who were both senior justice department legal advisers.

Court documents say that, without their legal advice in a series of internal administration memos, "it would have been impossible to structure a legal framework that supported what happened [in Guantánamo]".

Boyé predicted that Garzón would issue subpoenas in the next two weeks, summoning the six former officials to present evidence: "If I were them, I would search for a good lawyer."

If Garzón decided to go further and issued arrest warrants against the six, it would mean they would risk detention and extradition if they travelled outside the US. It would also present President Barack Obama with a serious dilemma. He would have either to open proceedings against the accused or tackle an extradition request from Spain.

As the article by Julian Borger and Dale Fuchs notes,

Obama administration officials have confirmed that they believe torture was committed by American interrogators. The president has not ruled out a criminal inquiry, but has signalled he is reluctant to do so for political reasons.

"Obviously we're going to be looking at past practices, and I don't believe that anybody is above the law," Obama said in January. "But my orientation's going to be to move forward."

If "moving forward" means condoning the deliberate institutionalization of torture, it's difficult to see where, exactly, the Obama administration means to "move on" to. When heinous crimes are tolerated and dismissed as irrelevant to a nation's moral health, "moving on" implies that there may be more of the same to come. Corruption in the US became endemic during the Bush administration and remains a serious problem. Last November Obama held out the promise of a wielding a new broom: the desire for transparency, integrity, and respect for human rights was the reason he was elected. But two months into his administration, it looks as though we will continue mired in wars (and the endless corruption they facilitate) for the foreseeable future; and given the administration's desire to "move on," the Justice Department will probably not emerge from the ugly cloud.

The lawsuit claimed the six former aides "participated actively and decisively in the creation, approval and execution of a judicial framework that allowed for the deprivation of fundamental rights of a large number of prisoners, the implementation of new interrogation techniques including torture, the legal cover for the treatment of those prisoners, the protection of the people who participated in illegal tortures and, above all, the establishment of impunity for all the government workers, military personnel, doctors and others who participated in the detention centre at Guantánamo".

When governments run amok, clean-up must follow. When clean-up doesn't follow, there is always more of the same. Worse, the moral insanity spreads. Consider Pierre Tristram's thoughts on the looming Supreme Court case involving a thirteen-year old girl strip-searched under suspicion of possessing ibuprofen:

She was 13. She was being ordered to strip. Her parents were never notified. Savana did not consent to the search but complied in humiliating details. She was forced, literally, to shake her bra and her underwear, exposing herself in front of the nurse and an assistant. Nothing was found. I don't know what's more perverse: The principal's zero-tolerance stupidity over ibuprofin pills, the degrading search, or the fact that nine U.S. Supreme Court justices will hear this case next month to decide what limits, if any, there should be on school authority.

But this isn't authority. It's criminal abuse -- of authority, of the child, of human dignity. How do we come to this? Stupid question, considering the accumulating record of a society where ideals of justice and humaneness mix with the basest controls in the name of discipline and order. They're close relatives, those school officials who order a 13 year old strip searched, to those who have children Tasered, or to police officers who now use that instrument of torture as a routine means of subjugation, or to prison guards who do the same with restraining chairs. When the barbaric becomes routine, it's called protocol. What should be denounced and forbidden is accepted and debated.

Tristram calls this "institutionalized sadism." I call it the culture of fear.

My prediction? Obama will neither comply with the extradition nor start criminal procedings against these men. He hasn't, after all, released the men from Guantanamo the Supreme Court ordered released last year.

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