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20 December 2008

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Mad Dogs

"Where is the outcry here for punishment of those who led the country into these crimes. Where is it? pl"

It would seem that many of our fellow countrymen (and women) are too busy watching Agent Jack Bauer and the 24 series, and enjoying their fantasy revenge against all who have injured their comic-book imagined pride.

And this is just the way the ruling elite like it.

Docile, easily lead, and prepped to strike first without thought. These are the very traits our leaders strive to obtain.

The success of creating this cultural muscle memory is by no means an American monopoly, but surely this is worthy of a prominent entry in the Guinness Book of World Records since who else has attained such achievements by means of only a McDonald's Happy Meal.

wcw

Harper's Scott Horton has been pretty vocal. He gets a little TV time.

Or were you asking about politicians? They've been pretty silent, most especially Obama. Probably good politics, but I am not happy about it.

lina

"Ben Gurion was an ardent nationalist who cared nothing for anyone but his own people. Is that what we are?"

Yes. The people in power for the last eight years are exactly that, and they succeeded in getting about half the population to go along with them. (Smerconish is just a representative mouthpiece).

McClatchy (12/19/09):

"Bush could insulate his administration's officials against criminal charges by issuing pre-emptive pardons before he leaves office in January.

If Bush doesn't issue pardons, administration officials theoretically could be prosecuted under the War Crimes Act of 1996, which makes a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions a war crime that can be prosecuted in an American federal court.

However, Common Article 2 of the treaties says that the conventions apply to a conflict between two states that are party to the treaties, and the administration points out that al Qaida doesn't fit that description. In addition, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 specifies what sort of conduct can be punished and appears to give administration officials cover.

Challenging that immunity is likely to be an uphill battle, because Congress has the constitutional authority to define and punish offenses against the laws of nations.

Another route would be pursuing charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which allows for the prosecution in a military court-martial of anyone who's subject to the laws of war. Under the Yamashita standard, named for a Japanese general convicted of World War II crimes, officials who "knew or should have known" that crimes were being committed by their troops could be prosecuted. The Supreme Court, however, has strictly limited military jurisdiction over civilians, making a trial of administration officials in that forum difficult, if not impossible.

Experts said that a criminal prosecution is more likely to succeed abroad if led by any one of the countries that is party to treaties prohibiting such treatment. The International Criminal Court, which calls itself "the court of last resort", could also prosecute war crimes charges. The U.S., however, refuses to cede to its jurisdiction, despite the court's recognition by 108 other countries.

"Americans need to know what pressures were brought to bear," Hutson said. "Who made late night phone calls saying, 'If you're a patriot, you've got to come up with a legal opinion that permits us to do these things?' Culpability is less important to me than finding out what made such smart lawyers come up with such a travesty of a legal opinion."

Serving Patriot

COL,

You write:
There should be a reckoning and not in the ICC. Where is the outcry here for punishment of those who led the country into these crimes. Where is it?

Indeed. In my book, this is the first and most important test of the incoming Administration. Their answer to your question will set the tone, tenor and direction of our shared future. It will also greatly affect our ability to remain relevant to the rest of the world.

There are few times in their history when nations (or even people) so fully face off their shared perceptions and their true realities. We are fast approaching that gut check moment. We will be true to our principles or we will not. It is that simple.

I, for one, am tired of being disgraced and dishonored by my country.

Oh to have a country once again that endorsed the liberal use of tar and feathers....

SP

Duncan Kinder

There should be a reckoning and not in the ICC. Where is the outcry here for punishment of those who led the country into these crimes. Where is it? pl

It is on this blog - and others like it.

Seriously.


John Howley

"Where is the outcry..."

Other commenters have made good points. I would only add the following.

We Americans -- could be any nationality -- puff up our own sense of righteousness as we tell our national story. Our own righteousness grows brighter in contrast to that of the many despicable enemies we have faced down in the past. Ain't we grand?

So when it comes to crimes we may have committed, the silence seems hypocritical -- as indeed it is.

This is the theory of "cognitive dissonance" at work.

We believe ourselves -- as individuals and as a group -- to be good and true.

We avoid the stress and discomfort of information that contradicts this view of ourselves. We overlook or quickly forget anything that contradicts the positive image we have of ourselves.

We ignore -- and despise -- those who insist on raising such issues. Dissidents provoke dissonance and they make us uncomfortable.

Obama, like any competent politician, understands the theory of cognitive dissonance.

Charles I

Bravo, Duncan Kinder. Surely it is our duty to spread it beyond this wonderful forum.

My comment, er spouting, just posted at Duncan Hunter And The Lefties really is apropos here. I won't repeat it

alnval

Col. Lang:

Regarding the absence of outcry against the crimes committed by Wolfowitz et al.

Andrew Bacevich in his book The Limits of Power argues that until the people of this country give up the fantasy that the power of the United States is limitless that there will never be the accountability that comes with the recognition that in reality, freedom, like the power that sustains it, is finite.

He writes that for more than fifty years the approach this country has taken to addressing the problems it faces whether they be climate change, terrorism, the economy, military threats, or the control of nuclear weapons, has not been constrained by the basic principles of double entry bookkeeping. And, as a result, the people have come to believe that the very concept of freedom is synonymous with unlimited consumption and self-actualization giving them “. . . little appetite for either risk or sacrifice – even if inaction today increases the prospect of greater risks and more painful sacrifices tomorrow.”

Bacevich concludes:

“. . . the American people will ignore the imperative of settling accounts – balancing budgets, curbing consumption, and paying down debt. They will remain passive as politicians fritter away U.S. military might on unnecessary wars. They will permit officials responsible for failed policies to dodge accountability. They will tolerate stupefying incompetence and dysfunction in the nation’s capital, counting on the new president to fix everything that the last one screwed up.”

Implicit in this argument is the assumption that if were we to force accountability from our leaders that we might yet be able to get off the path of willful self-destruction that now appears inevitable.

Your own thinking already seems to have taken you to this point when you write that you are coming to believe that the necessity for accountability overrides the dangers of “political retribution.” Nevertheless, the question of how to once more make a moral absolute a moral imperative still hangs over our heads.

For example, I heard your congressman, Jim Moran, discuss this issue of Wolfowitz et al. the other day with a radio talk show host whose position was one of insisting on accountability. Rep. Moran clearly conveyed a different view relating that a political decision to not go forward with the impeachment of Bush had been made in order to not distract the country from the election of then Senator Obama. And, now that Obama had been elected, Rep. Moran didn’t sound terribly interested in doing anything else right now to ‘settle accounts.’

This is a clear illustration of Bacevich’s argument that we continue to allow ourselves to be lulled into inaction even if it “. . . increases the prospect of greater risks and more painful sacrifices tomorrow.”

I am extremely pessimistic as to our ability to extricate ourselves from this mess. My only real hope is that the risk and sacrifice that our self-inflicted economic disaster will impose on us will ultimately be redemptive in that it will force our political leaders to take the action necessary to create the kind of national accountability that will again incorporate the idea that freedom, like the power that sustains it, is finite.

Eric Anderson

Mr Lang, What would represent the appropriate forum for trial of the accused? What authority do you envision would initiate proceedings?

Warm regards,
Eric

alnval

Col. Lang:

A happy update to the Wolfowitz et al. issue:

TPM pointed me to a Newsweek article that summarizes recent judicial actions sustaining the pursuit of lawsuits by individuals against top Bush administration officials for prisoner abuse. http://www.newsweek.com/id/176044?from=rss

alnval

Col. Lang:

A happy update to the Wolfowitz et al. issue:

TPM pointed me to a Newsweek article that summarizes recent judicial actions sustaining the pursuit of lawsuits by individuals against top Bush administration officials for prisoner abuse. http://www.newsweek.com/id/176044?from=rss


trstone

The reason there is no outcry by the vox populi is that they have bought into the chimera of American Exceptualism. Everything that the government does in their name is beyond questioning as America is better, smarter, etc., than any of the rest of humanity.

barrisj

During a recent interview on ABC News, Dick Cheney stood behind the "legacy" of the past 8yrs, and hoped that what has been put in place would be embraced by the Obama administration after next January. Which in fact is the real tragedy here: PATRIOT Act, NSA "TSP" surveillance, Military Commissions Act, negation of international law, Guantanamo, on and on it runs - an astonishing architecture for a Leviathan State. Seemingly, only the closing of Gitmo is pledged by Obama, though possibly with conditions, who knows at this point. However, the executive order issued by Cheney/Bush in Feb.,2002 declaring that all "al-Qaeda and Taliban" prisoners under US control won't enjoy Geneva Conventions protection IS STILL IN EFFECT, despite SCOTUS and Congressional efforts to render it null and void. We need to hear it loud and clear from Obama on whether HIS administration will in fact conform to settled law, and publicly repudiate the various diktats, OLC opinions, and the entire corpus of the so-called "legal" infrastructure supporting criminal and unconstitutional acts of the past 8 years. Many of the sins of Cheney/Bush are in the public record; however, there are buried within the Executive Branch and its agencies the fruits of a extraordinary effort to expand and centralise power, reduce scrutiny and oversight, deny accountability, in short, to lay the foundation of an all-controlling "national security state" beyond anything that Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, et al, had at their disposal. And since few of these "innovations" have passed constitutional muster, or have been subjected to REAL Congressional oversight, they can be used with seeming impunity by the next administration if it so chooses, as the precedences established by Cheney/Bush can easily becomed "hard-wired", and by accretion further extend the concept of the "unitary executive" so dear to "conservatives" and statists alike. Without prejudging, I'm curious to see how much shedding of the "commander-in-chief" portmanteau we are likely to see in the years ahead.

Eric Dönges

Serving Patriot,

you write: There are few times in their history when nations (or even people) so fully face off their shared perceptions and their true realities.

If history is any guide, nations only do this when forced to do so at sword or gun point. I cannot think of a single instance where a victorious nation punished any of its leaders for atrocities committed against its opponents. If you Americans where to actually try, convict and punish those responsible for all the abuses committed in your name during the so-called "global war on terror", it would be a historic first and make the U.S. truly exceptional. Call me a cynic, but I just don't see it happening.

That is why the ICC is so necessary, because nations have shown themselves to be utterly incapable of holding their own accountable.

And by the way, why aren't President Bush and former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld on the list ? Surely they are ultimately responsible for the (mis)conduct of U.S. armed forces ?

JohnS

I also think the above list should be expanded. Right now it looks like you may have limited it to a few "bad apples" in the Administration, Col Lang. But just how far should we expand the list? Besides the above named, we can easily add the names, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. Should it also include complicit members of congress? How about a press corpse largely willing to look the other way and an American public with far too much on an already too full plate to be bothered?

mlaw230

Perhaps if Nixon had been prosecuted, Cheney would not have felt justified in asserting that the President is above the law.

Nevertheless, the impetus for prosecution will not come from Congress, it will come from the Justice Department. It will also happen regardless of whether Obama and Co. actually want it to.

The "legal opinions" of Yoo et als, may hold water politically, but they are meaningless legally. The Administration has been contemptuous of the law and lawyers generally, as if they really don't understand that although the Judiciary moves slowly it does grind finely and will, after a piece, address these issues and their crimes.

Also, assuming that there are still honorable Justice department folks still employed, that department has historically been very independent. Presumably there will be those that want to get that independence back.

This will not and should not appear as a political vendetta. There should not be any public preening or gloating, just a careful preparation, and a rolling up just as is done with organized crime, which in fact it is.

Significantly, if pardons are granted the international court gets jurisdiction of anyone found within the borders of a member state, under a provision that grants jurisdiction if prosecution in the home state is deemed unlikely or prohibited.

Consequently, they have trapped themselves, it seems unlikely that they will be granted pardons or prosecution otherwise waived, as we would need only one prison guard, interrogator or official to vacation in Belgium and the whole thing would be prosecuted, to our great embarrassment in Europe.

Also, there were in fact honorable people in the Justice Department, in the JAG corps, and in the CIA and FBI, who will be delighted to testify when permitted to. Careers were ruined, oaths violated, there will be scores to settle.

If in some sense, America is justified in "exceptionalism" it is in the context of periodically going a bit nuts and then recovering its good sense.

We seem to have a fairly significant righting moment that kicks in when evidence mounts that our elite have become lost.

Maybe it requires concrete evidence or practical issues, we don't do abstractions well. This time it was Katrina, in Watergate it was the tapes, before that it was the "At long last have you no decency, sir" statement.

In any case, my sense is that the fever has broken, the ship of state is being set right, and Obama, a Constitutional Law professor, will not risk his Presidency by derailing his own Justice Department.

Serving Patriot

@alnaval,

Great points on Bacevich's book and positions. I appreciate you bringing this forward and agree with your statement: "My only real hope is that the risk and sacrifice that our self-inflicted economic disaster will impose on us will ultimately be redemptive in that it will force our political leaders to take the action necessary to create the kind of national accountability that will again incorporate the idea that freedom, like the power that sustains it, is finite."

The cyclic history of the United States would indicate that our periodic "crisis-period" is upon us. It's "in these times" that true national character will prevail. And its these times that the citizen has to fight for the character he/she wants to prevail.

SP

Homer

PL: Where is the outcry here for punishment of those who led the country into these crimes.

Kucinich and some `anti-American lefties' (wtf?) have been crying out loud with a reasonable and clear voice for justice for quite some time.

As we all know, DC is rotten to the core, including the Democrats: In the next cycle, we should `throw out any bum' who is complicit in any illegal activity undertaken during the Bush admin.

If Feinstein, Leahy, Rockefeller, Pelosi, et al., were not complicit in these crimes and on the side of the law, surely they would work tirelessly to restore order.

But obviously they are not: Impeachment is off the table : wtf???

The Democrats are not even making sure subpoenas are complied with (see Rove on TV weekly?).


Food for thought ... Justice Brandeis (dissenting:Olmstead v. United States)

"Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen.

In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously.

Our Government is the potent, omnipresent teacher.

For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.

Crime is contagious.

If government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."

Serving Patriot

Eric,

I cannot think of a single instance where a victorious nation punished any of its leaders for atrocities committed against its opponents.

You might be right about "victorious" nations. But, I am far from convinced that the U.S.'s actions in the so-called GWOT can be called "victorious." In fact, the actions to date seem to be an abject failure that has reduced the country's security, its financial stability and its own self-image to ashes.

Indeed, the inability to claim a real "victory" int he GWOT (if that was ever the objective as barrisj observes) is the opening needed for the U.S. people to hold accountable those officials that led to this sad state of affairs in the present time.

The question remains unanswered - will the citizens get involved and demand some justice - an action that necessarily requires political leadership to pursue. Will the new leadership simply accept and use the expanded powers handed to them? Would such an action be acceptable to the engaged citizens trying to resolve the cognitive dissonance the U.S. failure in the GWOT is raising? Will the newly elected President LEAD the still-reluctant citizenry to repudiate past practices like torture and towards the ideals the nation professes?

Perhaps the U.S. will establish a new "historic first" and indeed take to task the criminal actors of the Bush Administration. The U.S. has atoned for past aggressions against its own peoples - albeit slowly and much too late. For example, the internal detention of Japanese-Americans in 1942-45 was later acknowledged as the illegal curtailment of liberties that it was - and compensation was rendered. That such acknowledgements are far too late and slow in arriving is undoubtable (racism, civil rights for blacks, indian reservations) - but at least there are accountability moments - political and judicial - that set the example and correct historical injustices.

It is not a perfect union by any stretch. But the Founders acknowledged as much at the beginning, when they built a system based on making "a more perfect Union."

I am with you on the basic need for the ICC, the requirement to hold national leaders accountable for universally accepted "crimes against humanity," and the general strengthening of international law among nations. It's my opinion that such mechanisms serve to strengthen peace and promote non-violent resolution of endemic conflict among peoples, cultures and nations. But, we also cannot forget that such violence is endemic, that international law is not a universally accepted ideal and that for the ICC to truly succeed, the leading global nations have to work in concert for the common good. All these are mighty hurdles given the current state of human enlightenment.

As for the absence of Bush and Rumsfeld in my list... There is no doubt that as those ultimately responsible for the conduct of U.S. military forces, they should be held accountable for their decisions and actions. They, of course, consider themselves blameless. Bush has long held that history will vindicate him (as does Cheney, so its hard to know who's thought is original). What I hope is to see these officials, who acted in the name of their collective citizens, either vindicated or convicted NOW - not in some future history book.

SP

rick

There is no outcry because the American people, by and large, simply do not care. It's the same as with the wire tapping; "the innocent have nothing to fear", and all see themselves as innocent.

There is also a fair slice of the electorate who think that this conduct is positively desirable. I am sure the Col. gets plenty of email from them. Between the two groups, I feel we have a majority, and that's that.

To quote Roger Zelazny's book "Lord of LIght"(a classic):
A doctor studies a horrible, disfiguring disease for many years, only to look in the mirror one day and discover that he has caught it. "Ah", he says, "on me it looks GOOD."

And this is not uniquely American, all societies seem to tell themselves that they are different, and none of them acutally seems to be so, and everybody seems so surprised and disappointed when they figure out they are just like everybody else.

steve

Thanks Col. Lang. I read you every day to catch stuff like this. I have been writing about this on my own little blog for a year. My sense is that most people just do not care because we were torturing "terrorists."
Surely even that Canadian guy was doing something, they just could not prove it.

I believe people have also bought into two other ideas. One, that torture works. Two, we have had no other attacks because torture kept us safe. The Bush administration cannot get it together to run decent IO when it comes to bin Laden, but he has been very effective with the American people.

Steve

Matthew

As a lawyer, I can tell you that what makes America "exceptional" is its historic devotion to the rule of law. Without it, we become just another swinish nation run by a corrupt elite.

Hmm....did I say "become"?

P.S. When the war crimes trials begin, they should focus on the lawyers. They are both the architects and enablers of Bush's crimes. The Constitution, which I happily swore allegience to uphold when I was a teenager, is America. Full stop.

frank durkee

There has been a significant "outcry" from the so called 'lefties" amd their various publications and aorganizatiions. That has been there for at least 6 years and has not faltered. Dince "liberals" is a term of derision among much of the population this has mostly attracted negative attention. Since I support some of those efforts and think kindly of many of them, i welcome yu all's interest and wonder where the hell you've been.

William R. Cumming

Very few political systems are self-correcting so PL don't hold out hope for ours. Reading over the litany of manuevrs of the Administration there are probably secret documents that would expunge or prohibit efforts at criminal prosecution. I also expect a flurry of expanisve pardons in the last 5 days of the Administration. That is why joining the ICC may be the only recourse for justice. I agree that is unfortunate but just as Al Capone was tried for tax evasion and convicted, not multiple homicides, sometimes the only approach to justice is indirection.

Willie Morrissey

Dear Col. Lang,

Thank you for continuing to speak out against torture.

It may get tiresome and frustrating, but everyday there are young people and others who are considering the issue for the first time. When they do,they need to hear your voice loud and clear.

Thank you. Happy New Year.

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