08 May 2009

Moral Clarity of Torture, tribute to R H Jackson

The 8th May, 2009 ... a day to recall our moral history:

The dawn of the Twenty–First Century will be indelibly tied to the revived planetary debate over torture; a topic loudly re-echoing through the Obama Administration's recent publication of several Bush regime “Torture memoranda”. One marvels at the blasé tones and assertive stances that permeate the US mainstream media (MSM) on this subject.

Media Matters provided a list of 'Republican sound–bites' recently, which emanated in four days (late April 2009), and were timely, albeit negative responses to the Bush torture memo revelations. We wrote about those previously, describing the manipulative tactics from the foul underbelly of Republicanism. Those sound–bites promote a comparison of revealing known Bush misAdministration war crimes, to the USA's turning thereupon into a 'Banana Republic'. Far be it for anyone to remind those several announcers, and their wannabe–dittohead audiences, that Bush's regime had been compared to Banana Republican leaders long before similar language hit Obama's Presidency. Moreover, the attacks on Bush came through an international press, precisely due to his deprecation of Human Rights.

Take one sound–bite example, from the former malignant 'Brain of the White House' himself – Karl Rove (April 21):

... what we're going to do is we're going to turn ourselves into the moral equivalent of a Latin American country run by colonels in mirrored sunglasses, and what we're gonna (sic) do is prosecute systematically the previous administration or threaten prosecutions against the previous administration based on policy differences.”

'You see', implies Rove: 'torture? It's merely a 'policy difference'...'

Comparable to policy differences about tax cuts for the wealthiest 1pc of Americans? And why use the word 'systematically'? These incidents seem quite specific. A nuance lost in Rove's Republican fog...

Although some became hysterical due to these 'revelations', whether as protectionists of the 'Loud Right' or from the 'Liberally outraged Left', debates on the pros and cons become sidesteps themselves away from the truth. And sidestepping the truth becomes sticky: the issue becomes whether the USA under GW Bush had given away its sixty–four year semblance of moral authority, and if so, whether it perhaps will not be able to recuperate this for an entire generation to come?

The Iraq of today will have to evolve into the 'Vietnam as seen today', before Americans lose their intimate relationship to the acts taken under Bush, in their names. American media, being more than the 'nightly news', offers shows like “24” or “NCIS” that inundate viewers' brains, with an inculcated banality towards an abhorrent subject, through its treatment of always–vanquished fictional terrorists by the very well–scripted heroes.

Sixty–four years ago today, 8 April 1945, Nazi Germany surrendered.

The international web site of der Spiegel, one of Germany's flagship periodicals, has historic moral authority to add to the conversation regarding Torture that rages within America. In its on–line article “Torturing for America”, der Spiegel quotes Senator Christopher Dodd's poignant thought:

“... for 60 years, a single word has best captured America's moral authority and commitment to justice: Nuremberg.”

“... what we risk today is that future generations will look back at this time (...) and be able to capture the loss of America's moral authority and commitment to [battling] injustice also with a single word: Guantanamo.” (emphasis added)

Der Spiegel provides an outside–in view that is succinct, and chilling: His [Obama's] decision puts the US to the kind of test it has not seen since Vietnam or Watergate.

It refers to the ongoing question of 'consequences'. Consequences for ordering, consequences for justifying, for aiding, and administering heinous treatment of alleged 'terrorist' prisoners. However, neither Vietnam nor Watergate was impugned against Jimmy Carter, the Democratic President whose Bicentennial election closed most of the doors to those painful years.

Life predictably produces consequences to almost every action: some intended, some unforeseen. Unintended consequences range from innocent errors (left the milk out overnight) to stupid ones (an email reply to 'all' rather than 'sender') to the ghastly (offering legal 'authority' for torture, based on catastrophic events). Even actions that were undertaken through guise of legal justifications provided may provoke unintended consequences.

Sidebar: in how many days or weeks, and under whose authority, was the palatable media–phrase 'enhanced interrogation techniques' incubated?

Sen. Dodd's father worked with Robert Jackson, our Chief Prosecutor at the post–World War II Nuremberg trials. A Supreme Court Associate Justice since 1941, Jackson was on a Court leave of absence, by President Truman's appointment, to lead both the Allied negotiations that produced the post–Nazi Nuremberg Trial prosecution modus operandi, and the trials themselves.

Jackson waxed eloquent, regarding the morality of the Allies' prosecution against alleged Nazi war criminals (as noted by der Spiegel) from Germany's military and commercial elites: “... the speech he gave was so powerful that it reduced his audience to tears. Never before had an American spoken as beautifully as Jackson”.

(Photo credit to Roy D'Addraio, official Nuremberg War Trial pohotographer: thanks to the Robert H. Jackson Institute)

Segments of his speech(-es) include:

The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.


That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.


We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow.

Comparing the words of Jackson to those of Dodd, is to be offered a moral balance between generations: the Greatest Generation of yesteryear's Century, versus the Greediest of today.

Or are we the most Fearful? Some afraid of 'terrorists', others afraid of what America became?

Now there is certainly a dichotomy in regarding the Nuremberg Nazi trials.

Summary: the Nazis themselves were fairly judged and harshly sentenced, and similar treatment went to the Captains of German Industry, whose trials were on grounds of using Jews as slave labour, funding the Nazi War effort, or providing its deadly materiel.

Yet, the most important Industrialists' sentences were, to a great degree, abrogated by practical political decisions. German businessmen found their ten to twenty–year sentences reduced to a light fraction: a significant group were back at their desks within two years. These special commutations were deemed vital to the reconstruction of the ravaged German economy, by American commercial partners and Establishment representatives. One such was John Jay McCloy, our High Commissioner for Occupied Germany, who oversaw the German transition from Occupied defeated State to the fledgling government of West Germany.

It seems now, that these decisions by McCloy were a repayment to Power, of the 'tribute Power [had] paid to Reason' (Jackson). Interestingly, der Spiegel reminds us that today's wheels of justice are turning in a similar–to–Nuremberg fashion:

Lawsuits that victims of torture are now filing against the government's facilitators in private industry suggest the broad extent to which the nation is burdened with the stench of torture. Even the aircraft manufacturer Boeing has been sued for damages, because a Boeing subsidiary allegedly arranged flights to the CIA's so-called “black sites”.”

Are we surprised that Boeing's subsidiary apparently did not seek a legal opinion, internally or from an outside counsel, for risk assessments regarding potential corporate liability for 'the stench of torture', through its arranging of 'rendition' flights bringing 'terrorists' to 'black sites'?

From the heights of Nuremberg to the stench of Guantanamo; from the Rationalists Jackson and Dodd to the Neo–conservatives Rove et al, we find ourselves trapped in a moral balance, due to previously–decried amoral acts. Those Republicans who find themselves 'appreciating the excellent intelligence provided' by Bush–American torture activities, as determined merely by media sound–bites, negate their allegiance to their Greatest President, Ronald Reagan. As President in the Eighties, he himself was the American President that signed the Convention Against Torture, in the 1980s.

It provides eloquent precise statements regarding State involvement, beginning with Article Two:

  1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

  2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

  3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

As to Article 2.1: the USA had all these, prior to Bush;

As to Article 2.2: the USA, with some glaring CIA–proffered

exceptions, respected these prior to Bush;

As to Article 2.3: the USA respected this, prior to Bush.

Proponents of torture appear to have adopted the multi–generational Israeli–Palestinian argument that lies at the root of those peoples' historical situation: “... but look what they did to us!”.

Proponents offer justifications (against the clear mandate of CAT Article 2.3) because these ghastly procedures were implemented through express legal authorization provided by specific US Justice Department and White House attorneys (the 'Memos'). Those acts themselves, of creating legal justifications, are probably prosecutable under applicable US laws, or under CAT Article 2.2: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency...”.

Military people currently use a phrase that has expanded into the general public: 'He's got my back'.

The American proponents of torture must remember 'who's got their back':

Iran, China, Syria, North Korea, Mexico (?), Israel and other radical or eccentric States (as well as America's fictitious “24”, “NCIS”, etc), and two or three well–known Islamic groups.

American opponents of torture may be prouder of the host of organs, States, NGOs, or IGOs that 'have their back': International Law and Treaties, the great majority of OECD States, the United Nations, American Law and Robert Jackson. If Jackson were with us today, would his eloquence wax against neo–proponents of torture? Would his words now echo these?

“How could we ever have forgotten our Nuremberg–era clarity? That the torture which we inflict on these prisoners today is the record on which history will judge us through many tomorrows? What subjugation has Power exacted from Reason?”

+ + + + + + + + +

Obama is inundated with problems that reverberate out of his predecessor's regime. He has access to information now, as President, that he may not have held in the early days of his campaign. Yet der Spiegel reminds us today, that the problems that most divided our recent, pre–Internet United States – Vietnam and Watergate – share moral grounds with the decisions regarding prosecutable offenses arising from Bush's Torture regime. One situation that preceded his entry into office, is Speaker of the House Pelosi's pronouncement that 'impeachment [of Bush] is off the table'.

At cZm, we believe that this Democratic decision was politically generated: it would have played into Republican hands during the earliest stages of the 2008 campaign. The biased MSM would have had a field–day in describing the Democratic Party's 'persecution obsessions'. Multiple 'trials' of multiple defendants would have sapped great portions of Congress's time. This analysis does not tackle how the Constitutional role of Congress, to protect the Country against Executive 'High Crimes and Misdemeanors', had been subjugated in order to 'win elections' rather than attaining a status of being the moral Constitutional Branch of Government.

Obama should assess wholeheartedly, how this Torture legacy will sap his moral clarity, more than to worry about 'opening wounds' through necessary investigations, indictments and trials. It was America's emerging moral clarity (through years of released evidence and protest) that ended the Vietnam War, nearly simultaneously with Nixon's bipartisan–forced resignation. Yet times have changed: the Bush misAdministration was supported throughout its distortion of America's normal moral clarity by the co–dependant right–wing press and radio, as well as its elected Party members in Congress.

Dick Cheney now responds with a call for the release of the 'memoranda' that outline the 'information gains' from Torture. Doing so, to him, would prove the utility of these reprehensible acts taken in the name of American people: this raises many questions. Would their authenticity be unquestionable? Would those reveal any more substantive content than did the famous 2002 Powell presentation to the UN? Would they prove that America received one accurate, beneficial, actionable item of information, for what ratio of hundred(s) of torture sessions, or victims? How many thousands of man–days have been accumulated by Guantanamo inmates, for what real end?

The saddest part of all this, is how Republicans saw value in supporting Government–authorized violence against Guantanamo prisoners as a means to support GOP re–election efforts, perhaps more so in the negative: 'candidates against torture', became vulnerable media victims to 'Soft On Terror!' attacks.

We should be thankful, perhaps, that the US Military has miraculously avoided (apparently...) any sizeable POW situations in Iraq or Afghanistan. Because no one – proponent or opponent of torture – wants to think of how 'our boys' would be treated by Sunni, Shi'ia or Al Qaida 'guards' who have cousins in Guantanamo... or in US secret prisons scattered elsewhere.

Guantanamo? Or Torture? Or Abu Ghraib? These certainly contend for places in the top–Five of single–noun legacies ascribable, purely and justifiably, to George Walker Bush. And we should pray to all gods that Jackson was wrong: “... that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.

Yes, other nations torture(d); yes, other nations pursued genocides; yes, other nations have been prosecuted for war crimes.

But they aren't the United States...

If President Obama wants the preceding sentence to promote renewed esteem for America, he should resist sustaining any of Bush's legacies; doing so may morph them into his own.

Henry T. King spoke of Jackson's Nuremberg legacy at the Chautauqua Institute, in June of 2003:

The more significant, and more dramatic, consequence of Nuremberg is personal rather than legal. The trials altered the way that individuals perceive their status.

Are we merely to insert the word 'Guantanamo'?

Is the resulting phrase spine–chilling to You?

Commemorating Robert Jackson,

American Moral Authority, and the

Day of Nazi Surrender...

As it was it can be again.

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© 2009

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