Thursday, September 09, 2010

Obama administration makes a mockery of human rights

Scott Horton observes

Diplomacy, according to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, is the “patriotic art of lying for one’s country.” A fine example of this comes from the U.S. Department of State’s Report to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Conjunction with the Universal Periodic Review (PDF), submitted at the end of August:

Thus, the United States prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of persons in the custody or control of the U.S. Government, regardless of their nationality or physical location. It takes vigilant action to prevent such conduct and to hold those who commit acts of official cruelty accountable for their wrongful acts. The United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture, and U.S. law prohibits torture at both the federal and state levels. On June 26, 2010, on the anniversary of adoption of the Convention Against Torture, President Obama issued a statement unequivocally reaffirming U.S. support for its principles, and committing the United States to continue to cooperate in international efforts to eradicate torture.
Horton goes on to note that contrary to what the United States officially asserts, it in fact does torture when the president feels like authorizing it and it does not hold those who torture accountable.

The "vigilant action" apparently includes arguing in court and winning expansive executive power to shield criminal conduct from legal scrutiny. It also includes "Looking forward, not backward" which allows the authors of a torture and kidnapping regime to walk around freely, making television appearances bragging about how proud they are of the torture that they had committed.

This is the sort of thing that should generate national outrage and dominate a news cycle. Perhaps we would have less such moral outrages if we had a media class that had a functioning moral compass in the first place. As it is, many of those in a position to hold the Obama administration's feet to the fire for its campaign promise shattering continuation of human rights violations are too busy having fun water gun fights with White House officials at the Court of Versailles Vice President's mansion.

Update: I agree with Brayton's sentiment, although I disagree that lying and winning an appeal are in themselves impeachable, no matter how despicable or destructive to the rule of law.

Obama lied, plain and simple. And now it is no exaggeration to say that we are on the cusp of the end of the very notion of constitutional checks and balances. Think for a moment about what Obama's victory in this appeal means. It means that the government can torture people at will -- entirely innocent people -- and the victims of that torture have no ability to seek justice in court. The moment the government says this is a state secret, the case has to be dismissed -- do not pass go, do not even think about demanding due process or justice.

The plaintiffs plan to appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds it, the rule of law is a dead letter in this country. It really is that simple. There is no more important issue facing this country. If the executive branch is allowed to violate the constitution, the law and our treaty obligations at will and there is no judicial oversight allowed for those actions, we do not have a president we have a dictator -- and the fact that we are allowed to change dictators every four years does not change that reality one bit.
Not a dictator, so much as a para-dictator. We still have the institutions of democracy, the hypothetical seperation of powers and such, the laws on paper ... they all just happen to be useless when it comes to doing anything about the monarchical national security state war president. The Obama administration has just helped to transform, further, the Rule of Law, into a vestigial organ of the American political body.

And here's another recent example of the "vigilant action" that has been taken to hold those who commit torture to account: rehiring a torturer as a contractor.

As Andrew Sullivan puts it

The cloak of secrecy [Obama] is invoking is not protecting national security but protecting war crimes. And this is now inescapably his cloak. He is therefore a clear and knowing accessory to war crimes, and should at some point face prosecution as well, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything any more. This won't happen in my lifetime, barring a miracle. Because Obama was a test case. If an outsider like him, if a constitutional scholar like him, at a pivotal moment for accountability like the last two years, cannot hold American torturers to account, there is simply no accountability for American torture. When the CIA actually rehires as a contractor someone who held a power-drill against the skull of a prisoner, you know that change from within this system is impossible. The system is too powerful. It protects itself. It makes a mockery of the rule of law. It doesn't only allow torture; it rewards it.

The case yesterday is particularly egregious because it forbade a day in court for torture victims even if only non-classified evidence was used. Think of that for a minute. It shreds any argument that national security is in any way at stake here. It's definitionally not protection of any state secret if all that is relied upon is evidence that is not secret. And so this doctrine has been invoked by Obama not to protect national security but to protect war criminals from the law.

1 comment:

malcontent said...

Consider also that the GWOT was a rage response to our problem with angry radicals on the other side of the world. The answers were available from the start...

If Gore had been president I truly wonder how different things would be today. Would he have succombed to the impulses of our ready war machine? After watching Obama make Nixon look like a leftist dove, I'm not as sure as I used to be.