Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Sunday 3 August 2014

Obama: "We tortured some folks"

A pretty remarkable statement for any US President to make, even if it is long overdue and hedged about with many qualifications and "justifications":

A fuller version of his statement is on C-Span:

Although President Obama cautioned against being "too sanctimonious" he also stated that the US had "crossed a line" in some of the techniques - for example in 2009 soon after he took office he referred to some of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" favoured by the CIA (amongst them "waterboarding") by commenting "whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake". His latest comments on these techniques included the statement that "any fair-minded person would believe were torture".

Basically, in advance of the publication of a US Sentate report which is expected to criticise the CIA for its use of brutal abuse of terrorist suspects in its custody and moreover that such methods did not result in any life-saving intelligence. It seems also that CIA personnel have also been involved in spying on Congressional staff preparing the Senate report, something which CIA Director Brennan has already apologised for

Basically, the current US administration is now accepting that its predecessor used torture, something it has studiously avoided doing until now, for fear of the legal ramifications. Although I do not wish to criticise President Obama too heavily, for it is after all his administration that has (at long last!) acknowledged publicly what every objective observer around the world, including some in the US itself, has known or very strongly suspected for years. Nevertheless, President Obama's attempt to jutify or 'place in context' US actions do not really wash with me. The President has stated, for example:
- "It is important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.";
- "It is important, when we look back, to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent.";
- "We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened.".

My reaction to these comments and statements is, to put it brutally frankly: STUFF AND NONSENSE! Torture is wrong. Period. No ifs or buts. No attempts at 'placing in context' are acceptable or justifiable!

Nevertheless, his remarks on Friday are very welcome, as they seem to indicate that the US as a nation is at last finding its way back to reality, rather than trying to rely on making up rules which flouted its international legal obligations:
- "When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques – techniques that I believe, and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture – we crossed a line.";
- "That needs to be understood and accepted. We have to as a country take responsibility for that so hopefully we don’t do it again in the future.".

One suspects though that whilst the US no longer uses torture, at least since the current administration came to office, it is not part of President Obama's thinking for the US to atone for its earlier crimes under the Bush 43 administration. Will we see those responsible for authorising the use of torture by the US arraigned before the International Criminal Court in the Hague? I doubt it very much, unfortunately, but in an ideal world I would expect the criminals responsible to be held to account (principally President George W Bush, Vice-President Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Henry Rumsfeld plus no doubt some others slightly lower on the totem pole of power in the US at the time - the then current Director of Central Intelligence or later National Intelligence, for example, for running the agency which carried out or procured the carrying out of the torture); the verdict of history on this criminal period in US governance is I strongly suspect not in much doubt, whether the criminals responsible are made to pay for their crimes during their lifetimes or not.

To summarise my views about this whole lamentable affair, there is no justification whatsoever, under any circumstances, for torture under the relevant UN Convention on the matter (CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment - you can read it here), although the US when signing the convention inserted a large number of qualifications - see here.

I have written about torture a number of times in the past, so won't repeat all I wrote here, but links to some of the articles most relevant to the latest US developments are linked below:
- Cheney tries to bury Vice-Presidential records (21 September 2008)
- "The Moral Maze" and "Torture" (23 July 2008);
- The truth about 'waterboarding' - it is torture (2 July 2008);
- The US under G W Bush and 'torture' (24 July 2007);
- Torture - is it ever justified? (20 March 2005).
(There are many later and earlier posts - simply put "Torture" into the search box at the top.)

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