Monday, June 25, 2007

Bad apples, rotten to the core, with no accountability

The Bush Administration's "bad apples" defense has seen better days. Last week's story by Seymour Hersh revealed yet further proof that the Administration has been lying from the beginning about its torture and abuse of detainees.

Now, the usually inscrutable Vice President Cheney is the subject of a comprehensive four-part front-page Washington Post series by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker on his role in the Bush Administration and his authorship of some of its most unforgivable abuses. Parts 1 and 2 are now online, and provide a devastating contemporary history of the past six years of Mr. Cheney's abuses of office, crimes against both domestic and international law, and enormous influence with and power over President Bush's decisionmaking, particularly concerning the lawless and unconstitutional regime of interrogation and torture instituted at Guantanamo Bay and deliberately transferred to Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

Bush and Cheney even kept their decisions on detainees secret from members of their own team, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, and former Attorney General John Ashcroft. The line as to which war crimes were now permissible appears to have been completely arbitrary:
According to a source with direct knowledge, that opinion approved as lawful a long list of specific interrogation techniques proposed by the CIA -- including waterboarding, a form of near-drowning that the U.S. government classified as a war crime in 1947. The opinion drew the line against one request: threatening to bury a prisoner alive.
When the project's depravity finally reached the light of day, these evil men chose to scapegoat the low-ranking soldiers in the photographs as "bad apples," covering up their own responsibility for the crimes with hollow words of contrition, all the while keeping the system in place to continue the torture and abuse.

George W. Bush on the Abu Ghraib scandal, 5/5/2004:
"There will be investigations, people will be brought to justice."

"We want to know the truth."

"The actions of these few people do not reflect the hearts of the American people."

"[T]he people in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent."

"They must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent America that I know."
President Bush on 5/10/2004:
"[B]ecause America is committed to the equality and dignity of all people, there will be a full accounting for the cruel and disgraceful abuse of Iraqi detainees. The conduct that has come to light is an insult to the Iraqi people, and an affront to the most basic standards of morality and decency. One basic difference between democracies and dictatorships is that free countries confront such abuses openly and directly."

"Some soldiers have already been charged, and those involved will answer for their
conduct in an orderly and transparent process. We will honor rule of law. All prison operations in Iraq will be thoroughly reviewed to make certain that such offenses are not repeated."

"Those responsible for these abuses have caused harm that goes well beyond the walls of a prison. It has given some an excuse to question our cause and to cast doubt on our motives. Yet, who can doubt that Iraq is better for being free from one of the most bloodiest tyrants the world has ever known?"

"I know how painful it is to see a small number dishonor the honorable cause in which so many are sacrificing."
"Anyone, any American who sees the photographs that we have seen has to feel apologetic to the Iraqi people who were abused, and recognize that that is something that is unacceptable and certainly un-American." Donald Rumsfeld, 5/5/2004

"As you know, full investigations into the abuses at Abu Ghraib are ongoing, and those engaged in this conduct will be held accountable." - White House Briefing by Alberto Gonzalez, 6/22/2004

Brig. General Mark Kimmitt: “Frankly, I think all of us are disappointed by the actions of the few,” says Kimmitt. “Every day, we love our soldiers, but frankly, some days we're not always proud of our soldiers."

Bush and Cheney may never have had pictures taken while holding a prisoner's leash, or giving their thumbs up to a pile of naked prisoners, or participating in mock executions such as waterboarding, but they cannot deny their responsibility. Be sure to read the whole Washington Post series.
Part 1. Part 2. Here is a brief excerpt:
No longer was the vice president focused on procedural rights, such as access to lawyers and courts. The subject now was more elemental: How much suffering could U.S. personnel inflict on an enemy to make him talk? Cheney's lawyer feared that future prosecutors, with motives "difficult to predict," might bring criminal charges against interrogators or Bush administration officials.

Geneva rules forbade not only torture but also, in equally categorical terms, the use of "violence," "cruel treatment" or "humiliating and degrading treatment" against a detainee "at any time and in any place whatsoever." The War Crimes Act of 1996 made any grave breach of those restrictions a U.S. felony. The best defense against such a charge, Addington wrote, would combine a broad presidential directive for humane treatment, in general, with an assertion of unrestricted authority to make exceptions.

The vice president's counsel proposed that President Bush issue a carefully ambiguous directive. Detainees would be treated "humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of" the Geneva Conventions. When Bush issued his public decision two weeks later, on Feb. 7, 2002, he adopted Addington's formula -- with all its room for maneuver -- verbatim.

In a radio interview last fall, Cheney said, "We don't torture." What he did not acknowledge, according to Alberto J. Mora, who served then as the Bush-appointed Navy general counsel, was that the new legal framework was designed specifically to avoid a ban on cruelty.


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