Recent disclosures of documents about our handling of prisoners of war demand that we now investigate the extent of possible war crimes. As a nation, if we have tortured prisoners we must seek the same justice for them as we would expect for our own soldiers. One thing has become abundantly clear in the last several weeks. There is strong evidence that orders came from the very top of the Bush Administration that illegal methods would be used…whatever was necessary…to gain information.
It is now well documented that some people in the U.S. Justice Department, apparently at the orders of Dick Cheney, prepared documents that attempted to circumvent the laws against torture by simply claiming Presidential authority. But any such documentation has no authority. An individual in the Justice Department of the United States is in no position to write memos that purport to replace proved and tested international law.
If it were legal to treat prisoners as we did, then there would have been no need to provide a memorandum stating that it was legal. No member of the legal department of any branch of the United States government has the authority to simply create his or her own rationale for breaking international law, especially international law that is clear and precise and has been well established practice for many, many years.
Many of the techniques used to “break” prisoners to obtain information were in effect cruel and unusual punishment. Chaining to the floor for periods that would result in physical or psychological damage, confinement in small areas, physical abuse, deprivation of food and water and physical techniques that included water boarding are all prohibited.
Not only are these procedures illegal and punishable by international law, but they are both inefficient and potentially reciprocal. One of the reasons for not torturing prisoners, in addition to the principal reason, namely that it is cruel and immoral, is that we may expect similar treatment from our foes for our own soldiers when they are captured. We may have differences that lead to war, but in the 21st Century, we in the industrialized world try to retain some semblance of civility in the midst of the madness of war.
We can no longer look at what we now know and turn away. We have evidence from the FBI that torture was taking place. Their own memoranda were described as observations of what they referred to as “war crimes” and they would not participate.
If the objective was to punish the prisoners, that in itself was illegal. If the objective was to collect intelligence, the procedures were so far from intelligence gathering techniques as to be laughable. What happened at Guantanemo Bay and other areas around the world with prisioners captured in both Afghanistan and Iraq was the result of orders from people who had no experience in either the military or in any situation where military intelligence had been obtained. These orders came from the top and the people at the top were both inexperienced and lacked good judgement.
There were no interrogation techniques employed of the kinds that have been standard with military intelligence for at least the last 40 years, including during several hot wars and one very long and very serious cold war. During those periods there were many collection centers where interrogations took place where torture was never even mentioned let alone used. These new operations were radical departures from military intelligence procedure. That is clear and absolute. These were orders given by amateurs and, frankly, fools.
It is also clear that in those few operations where valuable information was learned, it is now pretty clear that it was obtained not with torture and not by untrained individuals but by trained and experienced military and civilian intelligence operatives.
There is no reason for torture in gathering intelligence information. It is hard work collecting, organizing and analyzing data. Torture has nothing to do with it. It is not a short cut that can be used by so-called “leaders” like those in the politically motivated Bush Administration who seem to have gathered all their experience from watching the James Bond films.
This country sent American soldiers to prison for similar actions in prisons in Iraq. President Obama must put aside his pipe-dream of “bi-partisanship” long enough to authorize the Attorney General to investigate whether serious crimes were committed. Those who authorized those acts were the ones responsible by issuing such orders and must be investigated, indicted and, if found guilty, punished. Until we do so, we will never restore our position as a moral country in the eyes of nations in the international community.