Monday, January 26, 2009

Prosecute the torturers

Andrew Sullivan, a self-styled conservative and best-selling author of The Conservative Soul: How We Lost it, How To Get It Back, writes of the men at the top of the Bush administration who ordered the torture of prisoners:

The executive orders [by Obama] are so far very subtle but very smart. Scott Horton's analysis is the most telling. Some will be disappointed that Obama is not about to condemn the out-going war crimes of Bush, Cheney et al. in ringing terms. But the election did that. And as the era of the dark side recedes a little, my sense of the looming reality is as follows. The men who ordered a man tied to a chair, doused in water, and chilled to hypothermia so intense he had to be rushed to emergency medical care, the men who presided over at least two dozen and at most a hundred prisoners tortured to death, the men who ordered an American servicewoman to smear fake menstrual blood over a Muslim's face in order to win a war against Jihadism, the men who ordered innocents stripped naked, sexually abused, terrified by dogs, or cast into darkness with no possibility of a future, and did all this in the name of the Constitution of the United States, the men who gave the signal in wartime that there were no limits to what could be done to prisoners of war and reaped a whirlwind of abuse and torture that will haunt American servicemembers for decades: these men will earn the judgment of history. It will be brutal.

We will need some formal and comprehensive record of all that happened, and the Congress will surely begin to move on that (and they should not exempt their own members from scrutiny either). And as specific allegations of torture emerge, the Justice Department will have no option but to prosecute. To ignore such charges is itself a dereliction of constitutional duty.

In the last two weeks, two very important things have happened that make that especially hard to avoid. The Bush administration's chief prosecutor at Gitmo, Susan Crawford, has herself conceded that torture did indeed take place in that camp, and specifically against Qahtani, the prisoner whose torture was personally monitored by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, and whose torture log is in the public domain. An attorney general presented with clear evidence of torture engaged in by public officials has no choice but to prosecute - or to make a mockery of his office. It is absurd to ignore the men who have primary responsibility for the crime.