Column, 478 words

Torturers? Who, Us?

It's time President Obama stopped protecting our war criminals.

William A. Collins

If you torture,
Woe betide;
Best make sure
You’re on our side.

A number of honorable Western governments are seeking to punish the perpetrators of torture. Unfortunately, the Obama administration isn’t among them. This failure of will is doubly lamentable, because the best-known contemporary torturers happen to be from the United States. It’s still hard to conjure up President Barack Obama’s rationale for protecting the guilty parties. But whatever that reason, it hardly seems worthy.

Meanwhile, the United States has rebuffed attempts by Germany, Spain, Poland, Canada, and perhaps others to seek justice for victims against their tormentors. Members of Congress and the Supreme Court have unfortunately aided this cover-up. Not surprisingly, the result has been great relief for members of the George W. Bush administration, officers and agents of the CIA, and the attendant private contractors.

Although the media has reported many allegations and details of this recent horror, WikiLeaks has helped flesh out the big picture. This is one reason why our government is engaged in such relentless warfare against Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. Their unauthorized releases help confirm the participation of several of our dearest allies in the torture business.

As late as last year, the House Intelligence Committee proposed specific penalties for torturers and the physicians who enable them. But nervous Democratic and Republican leaders pulled the plug on those provisions. They sought to avoid the embarrassment of a serious debate.

Who would have been embarrassed? We already know who the Bush administration players were. We already know the contractor who transported detainees for “extraordinary rendition.” And we know the airfield in North Carolina from where the kidnap planes departed. We already know the sites in Poland, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere where the dirty deeds took place. We already know the transshipment points in Europe and Canada where our loving allies turned a blind eye. So why aren’t we prosecuting?

Only Obama can answer that. And he won’t. “Moving Forward” isn’t a rationale–it’s just a slogan. Unpunished war crimes besmirch our nation’s good name and endanger us all by leaving humanity’s thirst for justice unquenched.

So is the president protecting our good name by not admitting that we torture? Is he fostering good will with Republicans by not prosecuting them? It seems like more terrorists and enemy combatants than ever are signing up to fight us–and the Republicans are still playing “scorched earth” against Obama at every turn. All the while, Americans watch their constitutional rights erode in the name of security.

With all due respect to the president, he would be better advised–and we citizens would be better protected–if he prosecuted the torturers and came clean about what happened. Otherwise, we’ll have big trouble making friends with those new revolutionary leaders in the Middle East as we continue to protect our own criminals and lie about our misdeeds in the region.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. http://otherwords.org