Friday, April 17, 2009

Just Following Orders

The Obama Administration released the much anticipated/dreaded Bush Administration torture memos yesterday. They were as bad as anyone’s worst fears.

Jay Bybee’s responses to the CIA’s request for guidance weren’t just legalistic fairy dust. They amounted to a manual on how to torture. Bybee—now a federal court judge, which should make anyone’s blood run cold—permitted eleven days of sleep deprivation. Waterboarding could last twenty to forty seconds. (Summaries, as well as the memos themselves, are here.)

The Obama Administration, which deserves commendation for releasing the memos, then made a shameful bow to the intelligence community by declaring no one who used the opinions supplied by Bybee as a justification for torturing a prisoner would be prosecuted, and the government would provide legal assistance in proceedings brought by other parties. The door was left open as to whether anyone higher up might some day face prosecution.

This whole business appalls me on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start, so I’ll work my way up from the bottom. Are CIA personnel so badly trained, so morally deficient, that they don’t know depriving a man of sleep for eleven days is torture? Simulating drowning for twenty minutes? Slamming his head into a wall? A good, practical, definition of torture is, “How would you feel if this was being done to one of your guys?” Well? The CIA interrogators weren’t asking for guidance; they wanted permission, and Bybee gave it to them.

Did Bybee get an erection while he wrote the memos? Did he write much of them with only one hand? Did he sit back with a cognac on cold nights and wonder what it would be like to actually be there, instead of just imagining? We don’t know as I can find no media outlet that asked himt. Not that I’d expect a comment, or that he’d even answer the phone. I can’t even find a reference to a “No comment,” or, “Judge Bybee’s office did not return calls.”

The Bush Administration was little more than a junta, often operating outside the rule of law under the auspices of jefe Cheney. Some career-advancing toady without scruples could always be found to write an opinion to justify whatever they wanted. Warrantless searches. No habeas corpus. Long-standing treaties and accords ignored. As I noted before, they treated the United States like Tony Soprano treated David Scatino’s sporting goods store.

And now the Obama Administration has officially endorsed the supposedly discredited “I was only following orders” defense. Not only will Obama, acting in our name, allow a free pass to torturers, we’re going to pick up their legal bills on the assumption they acted in good faith. No further investigation required. I wonder what the response would be if they had learned some seersucker-wearing cracker DA wrote an opinion for some Mississippi redneck sheriff that said it was okay to take them Nigras out back and teach them some manners.

Of course, you probably don’t care. A recent poll showed only 38% of Americans want criminal investigations of the torture allegations; 35% want nothing done at all. Bush and Obama anger me. The poll is saddening and disappointing. We should all be ashamed for what was done in our names, whether we approved of it or not. Our lack of that shame only makes it more deserved.

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