Thursday, May 13, 2004

New Questions Now Raised By The Prison Abuses In Iraq

Dear Hosts, Producers, Journalists And Legislators:

Some of us who may be considered old fashioned despise the modern cultural and political technique of constantly, repeatedly and immodestly using the word “I,” as in I said this, I said that, I introduced this bill, I introduced that bill, I did this or that to help seniors, etc., etc., etc. With deep regret, therefore, it is necessary to introduce this email by saying that on May 7th and May 10th I sent many of you emails saying that evidence already available then indicated the possibility that, and urging the media to inquire into and discuss the possibility that, the abuses at Abu Ghraib had also taken place at Guantanamo, and that Rumsfeld and Bush long knew of those abuses but were unconcerned about them because they wanted to get information from the prisoners. The last few days’ news reports, and especially those in today’s New York Times, confirm that it is indeed the case that much of what occurred at Abu Ghraib was also taking place at Guantanamo, and that doing almost anything to get information was the modus operandi. This modus operandi included the water-boarding torture, sending prisoners to foreign countries to be interrogated so that the United States assertedly would not be responsible for the resulting torture, obtaining obviously corrupt secret memoranda from the once venerated Department of Justice and from CIA lawyers approving of the legality of the latter tactic, Bush apparently saying that he did not want to know where prisoners were being kept, and refusing to grant human rights groups access to high ranking detainees.

The most recent news confirms the need for the media and other investigators to pursue previously stated questions and also to vigorously pursue certain new ones obviously raised by the most recent revelations. For example:

• It now seems even more plain that Rumsfeld and Bush must have known that serious abuses were occurring, but were unconcerned because their major desideratum was to obtain information. Am I wrong in thinking that this question should continue to be pursued? (I note that apparently there already are Americans who think that Bush knew about the abuses.)

• The Government refuses to allow Guantanamo prisoners to be tried in civilian courts (and argued to the Supreme Court that civilian courts have no jurisdiction at all in Gitmo cases). Does the Government’s refusal to allow civilian trials arise because it knows that no prosecution can be successful in civilian courts, since crucial evidence has been obtained by torture and other coercion? Does the Government correspondingly believe -- in reality, know? -- that convictions will be obtained in military tribunals because the latter will be instructed to ignore torture, or would ignore it in any event? (Amazingly enough, I note, governmental sources apparently claim that nothing of what has gone on constitutes torture. What kind of people is it who would make such a claim?)

A related question is whether the Government has accepted a plea bargain from a soldier in Iraq, and may accept them from others in Iraq, lest the defendant(s) blow the whistle on higher ups in the chain of command if forced to a full scale trial.

Am I wrong in thinking that these are questions which should be pursued by the media and others?

• Everyone now knows the importance of the Abu Ghraib pictures in causing Americans to grasp what has been going on. And there are, it is said, pictures far worse than any so far released to the public. Their release would further enlighten the public as to the full extent and, I guess, even the horror of what was occurring. Yet various federal legislators have said the military has convinced them that the pictures should not be released because they would harm the privacy and non-humiliation rights of inmates and the fairness of trials.

But shouldn’t obvious facts cause us to think that this military argument must be pure propaganda intended to ward off further criticism that would arise upon release of the pictures, and that the agreement of legislators with this propaganda simply goes to the fact that, in this culturally-riven country, some of our legislators are simply bad human beings? The obvious facts I speak of, which can lead to these views, are that the faces of prisoners can be blocked out in still photographs and in videos, just as the print and television media block out faces and so-called private parts every day. If prisoners’ faces are not shown, so that nobody can know who the persons are, the lessening of privacy and the public humiliation will be greatly decreased or eliminated, while the public would be enabled to understand the totality of what went on. The faces of soldiers could also be blocked out in pictures and videos, thereby largely or completely avoiding supposed prejudice to any particular individual at trial.

Am I incorrect in believing that the question of the real reason for not releasing pictures is a matter which should be pursued?

• How did the once honorable Department of Justice come to issue secret legal opinions which -- contrary to every principle of liability I have ever heard of since entering law school in 1960 -- say it is lawful for a governmental official to give a person to someone else (i.e., to another country) so that the other person will torture him. This kind of action is the most obvious kind of conspiracy to violate our law. It is even worse if American personnel participated in the torture, as apparently occurred. We might expect whitewashing legal opinions from the likes of the CIA. But from the Department of Justice? Am I incorrect in thinking that something is seriously wrong here? And doesn’t this all bear, at least indirectly, on the Government’s desire for extension of the supposed Patriot Act, which gives it extraordinary power over American civilians?

There is also another question stemming from all this, one that is pure political dynamite and might be one of the reasons why the DOJ and CIA legal opinions were kept secret. Especially because Bush said that he did not want to know where prisoners were being kept, it seems quite possible, probably even likely, that he knew in general terms that prisoners were being sent abroad to be tortured. If he did indeed know this -- and, as I say, it seems quite likely he did (and one might even think him incompetent if he didn’t) -- then he was a participant in a conspiracy to violate American laws and was also, like Nixon, a participant in a conspiracy to cover up the violation. If the laws against torture are criminal laws, as I would assume, then the conspiracy to violate them and the conspiracy to cover up the violation were not just conspiracies, but were criminal conspiracies and impeachable offenses. (Not to mention that, as John Dean has been saying about Bush, his violations would be worse than Nixon’s.)

Am I wrong in thinking that all of this is very serious and bears inquiry?

• Do the abuses in the prisons, and what seems the obvious corruption of the Department of Justice, illustrate a lesson that is often mentioned but rarely heeded? It has often been said in the past that the ultimate costs to our own society of engaging in warmaking are so dreadful, and the danger which war causes government to pose to our own people is so likely, that we should not get into wars without overridingly sound reasons. The costs and dangers historically include loss of civil liberties, corruption of our institutions because of war induced frenzy, and harm to the economy. Is all of this irrelevant here? Has George Bush managed to repeal these “laws” of history? Is he causing their reemergence? Shouldn’t all of this be investigated and discussed, or am I wrong?

• Don’t we have to face, understand the ramifications of, discuss, and decide the following question?: If we are going to fight in places like Iraq, and are to fight a war against terrorists (a war which in many ways we ourselves spawned by our actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the middle east from the 1970s through the 1990s), is it necessary, despite scruples, to use abusive methods and torture? We are not, after all, fighting people who use kid gloves, as the recent beheading of Berg shows yet again. Must we use abhorrent methods because this is the best or only way to save innocent lives or the lives of our soldiers? It seems that the Administration’s answer to the question is yes, and apparently the Administration would say that such methods enabled it to extract vital information from detainees who were high figures in Al Quaeda. There also are lots of people who agree with it that we should use any means necessary. On the other hand, there are experts in interrogation who say the use of torture is counterproductive. Where does the truth lie? And if it lies with the Administration, does this bear on the next question, raised below? Shouldn’t all of this be inquired into and discussed by the media?

• Don’t the actions of Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, their Executive Branch cronies, and their dupes in Congress raise yet again the fundamental question of whether it is possible for America, regardless of how well-intentioned we are or think we are, to police the world militarily? In this particular regard, how much has really changed since one or two of the early great Americans (Washington?, John Quincy Adams? someone else?) said America does not go abroad in search of dragons to slay, but rather should serve as a beacon to the world? Am I wrong in thinking that this is a fundamental question which should be raised yet again?

I urge that the media and others should inquire into and discuss the foregoing questions.

Sincerely yours,

Lawrence R. Velvel
Dean, Massachusetts School of Law

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