Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Yanking the Chain of Command

The story-line out of the Bush administration -- that the only torture meted out to foreigners in the sacred War On Terror was performed by seven hillbillies at Abu Ghraib and had nothing to do with the chain of command -- that particular piece of fiction evaporated a little further this a.m. with the simultaneous publication of two different secret memos, one in the Washington Post, the second in the New York Times.

The WP story is built on a leaked Justice Department memo from August 2002 which opined that torturing suspected Al Qaeda prisoners abroad can be justified and that international rules against torture could be safely ignored as running counter to the president's sworn oath to protect the United States. "If a government employee were to torture a suspect in captivity, 'he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the Al Qaeda terrorist network,' said the memo .... It added that arguments centering on 'necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability' later."

The memo was written after the CIA began detaining and interrogating suspected al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and elsewhere following 9/11.

This memo was subsequently used as justification in a March 2003 Pentagon report, the document that the NY Times outs this morning (actually the Wall Street Journal first reported its existence yesterday). The Pentagon document, which was prepared for the edification of Donald Rumsfeld (who later said he just had no idea that anything like Abu Ghraib could possibly be going on) went considerably further than the Justice Department memo. The lead from the Times story: "A team of administration lawyers concluded in a March 2003 legal memorandum that President Bush was not bound by either an international treaty prohibiting torture or by a federal antitorture law because he had the authority as commander in chief to approve any technique needed to protect the nation's security. The memo ... also said that any executive branch officials, including those in the military, could be immune from domestic and international prohibitions against torture for a variety of reasons."

In other words, the decree came down from On High that you could pretty much do whatever you wanted to the hapless camel-driver picked up in an Army sweep, just as long as you don't kill the s.o.b., which apparently didn't stop them from killing a few of the s.o.b.s. And now all those legal calisthenics, contorting themselves into the opinion that anything American soldiers did to Arabs would be just fine, and that no American soldiers could be blamed for those deeds, so long as the s.o.b.s didn't actually die in American custody ... well, all of that appears to have gone under deep cover, while seven poor reservist slobs from Cumberland, Maryland, are put through show trials to prove what is exactly the opposite of the truth.

Makes us proud to be American. Makes us understand, finally, what the Republicans have meant all these years when they preached "personal responsibility."

As we approach the Apotheosis of the State Funeral, a question forms in our mind: What Would Ronald Reagan Do?

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