Crimes in Broad Daylight

by Malcolm Shore, April 13, 2008

Who gives a shit if there is a naked woman reflected in Dick Cheney’s sunglasses? There is a river of blood on his hands.

And now, those red-drenched paws have been held up to the light for the whole world to see, thanks to a report that broke last week from ABC News: ABC revealed that in the aftermath of 9/11, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Colin Powell, and George Tenet held dozens of top-secret meetings in the White House. On the agenda for these meetings? Planning, in vivid and gruesome detail, exactly how to torture people—and how many times. These top-level Bush Regime officials approved techniques including waterboarding, physical abuse, and sleep deprivation. According to the report, former CIA director Tenet proposed combining these torture methods into a single interrogation, and Cheney personally gave him the thumbs up.

Later, in 2004, after the Justice Department had ostensibly rescinded one of its infamous torture memos, Tenet again asked for permission to torture. According to ABC News, Condoleeza Rice responded, “This is your baby. Go do it.”

Finally, the AP reports that Bush Regime officials were careful to give the president himself plausible deniability. “The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved,” the AP reported Thursday.

There you have it, in broad daylight—the Bush Regime directly, and meticulously planned torture. To review further: Even some sections of the mainstream media are now acknowledging that the implementation of torture—a clear war crime under international law— goes at least as high up as Dick Cheney. And that these officials were perfectly clear they were committing war crimes, which is why they sought to politically shelter the president.

Hey, America: Can we all please agree to make a big deal out of this?

Can we make a pact to let our anger override our despair? Is it too much to ask for us to make sure that everyone we know is aware that Dick Cheney is confirmed to have ordered the drowning, beating, and psychological torment of human beings? And, while we’re at it, can we finally come together to raise the demand for Bush, Cheney, and the whole crew to be driven from office and prosecuted for war crimes?

Endless List of Crimes Against Humanity

The list of crimes against humanity and impeachable offenses committed by the Bush Regime is—of course—so long, and expands so rapidly, that it is often hard to keep track of. But let’s say that the only thing you knew about this government was that it ordered torture to be carried out. That’s not outrageous enough to inspire you to resist? Seriously?

Some progressives, including those already actively resisting the Bush Regime, may greet the news that Cheney approved and planned torture with a sarcastic “Big surprise. We already knew that.” Well, whether we already knew it is not the point. The point is that massive sections of American society are ignorant—whether willfully or not—of the crimes their government is committing. And far too many of those who are not ignorant are pretending to be—perhaps because their personal responsibility in the face of these crimes is an uncomfortable reality to face, and perhaps because they feel the absence of a mass independent movement of resistance reinforcing them if they do speak out.

The louder and more persistently we call out Bush, Cheney, and the gang for being the war criminals they so clearly are, the fewer Americans will remain ignorant or complicit, and the more who will feel inspired and compelled to act.

Reacting to reports that Cheney, Rice, and other top Bush officials planned torture , Senator Ted Kennedy observed, in chilling fashion: “Who would have thought that in the United States of America in the 21st century, the top officials of the executive branch would routinely gather in the White House to approve torture?" What is equally astonishing—if not surprising—is that with the exception of the ABC News and the AP, the mainstream media has basically ignored this story. As of April 13, the New York Times apparently didn’t classify news that the vice-president of the United States authorized torture as “fit to print.” And CNN’s Web site apparently didn’t carry the story either, although apparently there was space, time, and resources available for the site to report on Britney Spears getting in a minor car accident.

Shout It From the Rooftops

However, while the silence of CNN, The Times, and other major news outlets is an appalling reminder of the complicity of our nation’s media in war crimes, this is no excuse for we the American people to join in this complicity. We must, as the saying goes, “shout from the rooftops” that our nation is being ruled by war criminals, and not cease until these criminals are brought to justice. The good news is that, while its crimes are certainly premeditated and planned with precious, the Bush Regime also ranks as one of the sloppier criminal enterprises in world history. In its mammoth crime of systematic torture ordered from top levels of government, the regime has left behind mountains of evidence. It has gotten to the point where this government may as well convene a press conference with top officials holding a giant reading: “YES, WE ARE WAR CRIMINALS!”

For instance, on February 5, CIA Director Michael Hayden admitted to Congress that his agency had waterboarded detainees. Two days later, the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, officially deemed waterboarding torture and declared that those who committed it should be prosecuted for war crimes. You do the math: Michael Hayden admitted that his agency committing war crimes for which he and other officials should be prosecuted. (True to form, the New York Times devoted mere sentences to this news).

Then there are the numerous “torture memos” – official government documents written since 9/11 in which the Bush Regime has sought to establish a legal basis to carry out torture. To cite just a few of these documents : In August of 2002, the Justice Department issued a memo that suggested international law banning torture did not apply to the “war on terror,” defined physical torture as pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” and described the threshold for mental torture as psychological abuse spanning months or years.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon released a March 2003 Justice Department memo written by John Yoo, a war criminal employed by the University of California at Berkeley who will one day have his own wing in the Torture Hall of Shame. Yoo, who was then the deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, explicitly stated that the Bush Regime did not have to follow international law outlawing torture. “Our previous opinions make clear that customary international law is not federal law,” Yoo wrote, “and that the president is free to override it at his discretion.” Yoo went on to say that for prisoner abuse to constitute torture, it must involve the “intended sum” of severe mental pain, threat of death, and physical pain that causes organ failure or death. And he suggested that if interrogators were charged with violating international law, they could use “necessity” or “self-defense” as a justification.

In early 2005, the Justice Department issued a memo that explicitly authorized torture methods including waterboarding detainees, beating them, and subjecting them to freezing temperatures.

Then, of course, in 2006, Congress passed and Bush signed the Military Commissions Act, which in addition to allowing Bush to order the indefinite detention without trial of anyone he pleases, gave him the exclusive right to define what is and is not torture and discarded the Geneva Conventions for those deemed “enemy combatants.”

And now, on top of all this, comes the news that Cheney, Rice, and other top government officials planned, in detail, the execution of specific torture methods on specific detainees.

Brazen Admission of Torture

Precisely because this administration is seeking to legalize torture in order to prevent prosecution of those who carry it out, the Bush Regime has—out of necessity—been very open about its use of torture. In other words, the harder the regime pushes to legalize torture, the more it has been forced to leave behind overwhelming evidence of its own criminality. But here’s some bad news for the Bush Regime: Legalizing torture is itself a violation of international law.

Article 4 of the United Nations Convention on Torture, which the United States has signed and ratified—and which the ACLU identifies as “the most important international human rights treaty that deals exclusively with torture” — makes it illegal for individual nations to rewrite their laws to permit torture. The article states: “Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.”

So, in other words, when Yoo said in the 2003 torture memo that, “customary international law is not federal law and that the president is free to override it at his discretion,” this was complete bullshit. That memo is illegal, as are all the other torture memos written by the Bush Regime. The Military Commissions Act? ILLEGAL! The meetings held in the White House to plan torture? ILLEGAL!

In case you’re looking for some other quick reference points to show people who don’t believe the Bush Regime has really violated international law, here you go: To begin with, let’s look further at the U.N. Convention Against Torture. This document defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

That’s a mouthful, but the meaning is clear: Intentionally inflicting mental or physical pain for the purpose of obtaining information is torture. Compare that definition to the one John Yoo tried to establish in his infamous torture memo to the Justice Department in 2003—that torture refers to the “intended sum”of severe mental pain, threat of death, and physical pain that causes organ failure or death.

Other articles of the U.N. Convention Against Torture apply so directly to the actions of the Bush Regime that one could be forgiven for thinking its authors anticipated the methods by which this government would seek to justify torture. Article 2, for instance, clearly states, “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.” It also states that “an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Article 3 bans rendition: “No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

Or let’s look at the Third Geneva Convention, adopted in 1949. This convention clearly states that its provisions apply to “all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.”

This Convention further states that, in relation to non-combatants—a category that explicitly includes detainees and prisoners of war—“the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; b) Taking of hostages; (c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” Article 13 of the third Geneva Convention reads: “Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”

So, when current Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez infamously referred to the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” and claimed they did not apply to detainees of the war on terror, this statement was not only morally despicable but—much like Yoo’s argument that the Bush Regime can override international law—complete bullshit.

And so, here we are in the spring of 2008, living under a regime whose arrogance and cruelty have reached such heights that its leaders are committing war crimes in broad daylight, practically daring the citizenry to stop them.

It is a challenge the American public is long overdue in answering.

According to the ABC News, during the top secret White House meetings authorizing torture, former Attorney General John Ashcroft exclaimed at one point: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

Indeed, let us hope that when all is said and done, it is the Bush Regime—and not us—that lives in historical infamy.

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