14 November 2008

Threats to Democracy ~ How to Deal With Our War Criminals

Prisoner Jail Cell (Etching ink on paper 38"x50") © David Fox

In the December '08 issue of Harper's Scott Horton has written a very provocative, insightful essay "Justice Post Bush: Prosecuting an Outlaw Administration." (It is available only behind a fire wall.) Here are Horton's premises, each of which seems incontrovertible:
There can be no doubt that torture is illegal. There is no wartime exception for torture, nor is there an exception for prisoners or "enemy combatants," nor is there an exception for "enhanced methods." The authors of the Constitution forbade "cruel and unusual punishment," the details of the prohibition were made explicit in the Geneva Conventions ("No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatsoever.") and that definition has in turn become subject to U.S. enforcement through the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the U.S. Criminal Code, and several acts of Congress.

Nor can there be any doubt that this administration conspired to commit torture [. . .]

Finally, there can be no doubt that the potential criminality of [their] acts.
Horton goes on to insist (rightly) that since all of that is public knowledge, the option of simply doing nothing is unavailable. His basic point is that not holding Bush and his minions accountable is toxic to democracy.
If the people wish to maintain sovereignty, they must also claim responsibility for the actions taken in their name. As of yet, they they have not. Pursuing the Bush Administration for crimes long known to the public may amount to a kind of hypocrisy, but it is a necessary hypocrisy. The alternative, simply doing nothing, not only ratifies torture; it ratifies the failure of the people to control the actions of their government.
Horton then proceeds to examine the costs and benefits, prospects and lack thereof, surrounding various legal means for pursuing Bush et. al. - international tribunals, domestic courts, and an independent commission of inquiry. He argues that the most likely and most productive alternative would be a special investigative commission (he discusses a couple of alternative forms) operating in the shadow of a Presidentially appointed special prosecutor.

I think that Horton is right to push this matter. And I think the consequences he identifies are just right. The American people are complicit in the policy of systematic torture and one way to address that complicity, and to insulate our democratic institutions from it, is to iniitiate public inquiry and prosecutions. Conservatives will no doubt complain that Horton and others who call for sanctions on Bush administration are criminalizing politics and policy. My response? Bush, Cheney, Rice, Ashcroft Rumsfeld, Powell and on down the line are the ones who criminalized U.S. policy. And they did so knowingly. Horton is right about the consequences of not holding them accountable. And conservatives who pledge allegiance to democracy and the rule of law ought to worry more about those consequences than they seem to do.

Gunpoint(Oil wash on canvas 54"x72") © David Fox

On a related note, the Horton essay is accompanied by a powerful series of drawings (including the two I've lifted here) made by David Fox who explains: "Drawing was a release for the outrage, I and many others, felt about the daily accounts of the barbarism and human suffering going on in Iraq. I made a large series of drawings in black and white, hoping they would have the immediacy of a newspaper image or report."

Labels: , , , ,


Blogger Stan B. said...

If there was any real justice in this country the whole lot would be behind bars right now. I take that back- they wouldn't have been able to make those crimes against humanity "legal" in the first place.

14 November, 2008 20:11  
Blogger Dawei_in_Beijing said...

Unfortunately, there is not a single mainstream politician in the U.S. that would go along with any of this. Democrat or Republican.

14 November, 2008 21:35  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


You may well be correct. But you've read enough of my out-of-left-field posts to know that I've never let that stop me before. And the fact that the proposal is appearing in a relatively mainstream publication is important.

It may be that the people in Congress would prefer the sort of arrangement that Horton proposes to the crisis that arises if someone of the BushCo crowd is arrested while traveling abroad. that is only slightly more likely, but it is not impossible. (It also is sanctioned by international law.)

We'll see!

14 November, 2008 21:51  
Blogger helmut said...

There is a major symposium on torture next Tuesday in Washington, DC and an ensuing exhibit on "the disappeared." We are talking about the moral problems, the institutionalization of torture and its politics, detailed legal steps that can and must now be taken, and so on. The hundreds of conference participants and attendees include people from academia, law, NGOs, international agencies, religious groups, government agencies, thinktanks, and the general public. It is open to all. Please come if you can.

More details and links here: http://phronesisaical.blogspot.com/2008/11/on-torture-symposium-los-desaparecidos.html

It's not enough to say that we ought to start talking publicly about torture, but to actually do it.

15 November, 2008 09:10  
Blogger Public Squalor said...

It feels good to think about the possibilities and there certainly is a legal basis for indictments and prosecution but at the same time there isn't snowball's chance in hell that this would happen. At least not a chance of indictments from any U.S. government agency. As Chomsky and others have noted, there hasn't been a U.S. president since WWII who hasn't been guilty of some form of war crimes. Obama isn't about to set a precedent to make ex-Presidents fair game for legal prosecution.

Maybe some international court...

peace -

16 November, 2008 09:41  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home