Friday, April 17, 2009

No More Torture

Yesterday, President Obama released four memos outlining the legal jujitsu and gymnastics the lawyers in President Bush's Office of Legal Counsel came up with to justify turning our CIA agents into torturers. You can see the memos obtained by the ACLU here.

And you all should take a moment to look at them for a second. Lawyers for the President explain how 'extreme pain or suffering', as forbidden by international treaties, does not apply to our techniques because our torture doesn't take too long, or cause permanent physical impairment. So, it's ok for us to throw people into walls, slap people around, put them in stress positions and (yes) waterboard the terrorists.

There's nothing particularly newsworthy here, we've just kept our heads in the sand for so long about what really happened that I'm interested to see if documentary evidence of the depravity that took place will raise peoples' consciousness.

It seems like the consensus in this country is to leave the past in the past. This is bullshit. Just this week, the US agreed to deport a purported Nazi war criminal. Yet, we have no need to look into the mirror at ourselves and our countrymen at the atrocities they committed?

For all of our country's shortcomings at taking the moral high ground, we are different than others, have been different than others, and should remain so. Papering over this incident is despicable. But, I'm spitting a lot of strong words here, so let me explain:

1) We broke international laws and treaties, blatantly. There's no excuse here, the international law is clear, we've attempted to judge others by this standard and reestablish an international community following the Bush debacle. We need to stand up for what we allowed to happen.

2) Torture is ineffective, any experienced interrogator will tell you so. Moreover, these memos lay out the fact that these aren't some Jack Bauer wannabes. The torture outlined here was not about obtaining information. It was about abusing our enemies. Abu Ghraib is a direct consequence of behavior like this, and it blows my mind that most of these memos were issued after Abu Ghraib. How was the lesson not learned?

3) Moving forward is not an option. We will not defeat Islamism without international support, however we have minimal international credibility. Showing that we are addressing our past will bring our allies with us. As proof, as recently as Tuesday, Spain was vocally investigating war crimes charges against some of Bush's lawyers who authorized this. When it became clear that these memos would be released, Spain backed off and let us handle our own business.

4) Ever since Ford pardoned Nixon there has been a complete dereliction by the American public to hold our executive officials to the legal standards they are meant to defend. First Nixon gets pardoned. Then Bush pardoned the Iran Contra operatives. Then Scooter Libby. Meanwhile, anyone with half a brain knows that the Bush administration broke many laws in their singleminded pursuit of the war on terrorism (you can claim that they were worth doing, but you can't deny that they were breaking laws left and right - at least you can't deny it credibly as shown by how outlandish these memos are), yet we are even considering letting everyone off the hook, except the frontline soldiers who got caught?

We need to begin to believe in ourselves again, and we can only do that by addressing our failures and proving ourselves better than it.

John Yoo who is the most well-known of the Bush hacks who authorized torture is today a teacher at Cal Berkeley. Teaching law each and every day. This is outrageous and depressing and shows our nation's failure to confront these criminals and make them pay for their crimes.

I know everyone wants to move and forget the past, no need to stir up confrontations. That's bullshit, our country can never heal unless it addresses its failings and I fear we'll fail ourselves again.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama

Mr. President (and staffer),

I am a strong supporter of yours. I rented my own buses to Pennsylvania to bring volunteers to your campaign and spent a week working in Pennsylvania.

That said, I believe you need to seriously consider letting Mr. Summers resign. You fought against the corruption of the revolving door in your campaign. Mr. Summers defines that. I understand that he is intelligent and a confidant, but you need someone who is untainted.

I believe that there has been too much focus on preserving the institutions on Wall Street for their own sake, rather for the sake of the economy. This also extends to our behavior with AIG. We don't NEED AIG or Citi, we need them not to collapse and damage those affected. However, there is no implicit need for these companies to exist.

I believe this gets back to people in your administration having preconceived notions of the permanency of the financial system as it is now. It is outsized to our economy and therefore exerts an outsized influence on you and your administration. Having someone with such clear conflicts as Mr. Summers does (as shown in the Washington Post article today), inhibits him from making truly neutral observations. He is not a bad man, but he is compromised.

Furthermore, having these types of figures around you only gives opportunities to those who oppose you. Don't give them the opportunity. I also reject the notion that everyone who is qualified may be compromised. That is a cop out. You're the President, millions would jump at the opportunity to advise you.

I also wanted to note that this is the first time I've emailed you with a complaint since you capitulated on FISA immunity last summer. I am not one to write about every issue of the day, but your own reliance on the people and institutions that brought us this mess concerns me greatly.

I hope you are able to broaden your circle of advisors in light of this conflict and recognize that I am not some partisan attacking but a concerned citizen.

Thank you,

William Finkel

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