Monday, May 18, 2009

Ends -- Means, and the Justice In-between

The news of late is, once again, filled with torture, accusations, and denials.  What did you know and when did you stop knowing it? That was the question asked of Nazis more than sixty years ago and once again being asked of our own Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Nancy Pelosi and her answers have only served to fuel the firestorm surrounding the issues of torture and whether the ends justify the means.  The GOP and their supporters have tried to shift the discussion away from torture to focus instead on Pelosi, and by extension the Democrats as a whole, and their knowledge of and complicity in the use of torture by the CIA.  While this might be seen as an attempt by the Right to distract us from the real issue of who ordered the use of torture and why, in fact the question of what Pelosi knew and what did she do with that knowledge is important.  

In pursuing those responsible for the crimes committed by the Nazis we are now at the point of punishing those who knew and yet did nothing to stop them.  The courts have found that their mere presence is enough to brand them as persecutors.  The history of how we dealt with the German War Criminals may well serve as a blue print for how we deal with our own.

First there is the recurring case of John Demjanjuk, the retired autoworker who lied about his membership in the Waffen-SS and was tried in Israel for war crimes. , Though he was acquitted, there was still the problem of his membership in the Waffen-SS and, more to the point, his lying about that membership on his citizenship application. 

Demjanjuk had his citizenship revoked and with his appeals exhausted he has been extradited back to Germany to face charges arising from his assignments as a guard at several Concentration Camps.  Like Scooter Libby who was tried not for “outing” a CIA Agent but for lying about it, so too Demjanjuk was not deported for being a member of the Waffen-SS (there are many of them living openly in the US) but for lying about his SS membership.1

Likewise Josias Kumpf, a retired sausage plant worker, was deported to Austria in March of 2009 because he too had lied about his membership in the Waffen-SS and assignment as a guard at several Concentration Camps. At his deportation hearing Kumpf admitted to serving as a guard but asserted that he had harmed no one.  The court agreed but found that “…his mere presence at a place where admittedly horrible, horrible things happened was sufficient to find him a persecutor.”

The use of torture by the US against prisoners held in the so called “War on Terrorism” has moved back onto the front page with the release by the Obama administration of previously classified memos.  These memos detail not only the ‘tortured’ logic by which the Bush Administration tried to show that torture, as authorized and practiced by them, was in fact legal, but also spell out exactly what was done and to whom.  Led by MSNBC host Keith Olberman, the calls by the Left for War Crimes trials have reached a fever pitch. 

The political Right, led by Dick Chaney, have argued that the use of torture saved lives and besides, the Democratic leadership in the Congress knew and approved. 

At the same time we have the comic opera spectacle of Condoleezza Rice being confronted by students in a dorm lobby at Stanford University and displaying her lack of historical knowledge or perspective.  She goes so far as to claim that Al Queda is a greater threat to the US than was Nazi Germany simply because Germany never attacked the US Homeland. (What about those U-Boat attacks off the New Jersey shore?)   Further, in what would have gotten her a failing grade in a Logic 101 class, Rice asserted that because the US does not torture, any actions taken by US interrogators were not torture. 3

All men are mortal

Socrates was mortal

Therefore All Men are Socrates

Vox Populi

As astounding as this video may be, the performance by Ms. Rice pales when compared to the vitriol in the comments left by viewers.  They run the gamut from those who believe that so called “Enhanced Interrogation” is not torture to those who affirm that, even if it is, the US is more than justified in using torture if it saves lives.   The rationale usually falls into the “The Terrorists did not sign or are not covered by the Geneva Conventions” or the “What ever it takes to protect America and Americans.”

You Tube is anything but scientific so it is impossible to know if the voices there represent anything more than a lunatic fringe.  However, a recent CNN/ORC poll found that while 60% of respondents think water boarding is torture. 50% approve of their use and 57% do not want members of the Bush administration investigated.4

The follow-up question the pollsters did not ask but should have: “Would you approve of the use of Enhanced Interrogation techniques on US soldiers captured by enemy forces?”  Perhaps they thought the answer would be obvious, too obvious, but that may not be the case given Senator Kit Bond’s amazing admission that he knew about the use of torture by the CIA.5

Finally there is Nancy Pelosi being accused of knowing and therefore approving, if only tacitly, of the use of Water Boarding.  She has claimed that although briefed by the CIA they did not mention Water Boarding, or if they did mention it they were speaking in the future tense.  The CIA counters that they explicitly mentioned Water Boarding and Senator Kit Bond has confirmed that, in the briefing he received from the CIA, the use of Water Boarding was indeed discussed and not in the abstract.

Of course the Right, now calling for Pelosi to resign for lying, are themselves in an untenable position.  If Torture is OK because it is necessary, as many of them assert, then what does it matter if she knew? What they and the GOP are not objecting to is that she knew about the use of torture by the CIA and did noting to stop it because neither did they.  The GOP and the Right believe not only that torture works but that it is justified if it saves American lives.  

Fine.  Then let us stipulate that torture does work. So what – that changes nothing.6

It is never a case of the ends justifying the means but rather the end being only as honorable as the means employed to obtain it.  If you use the weapons of the enemy then you have become the enemy.  Torture is the weapon of the enemy.

History Lessons 

Thus do we return once again to the Nazis and to the Germans in 1945 denying any knowledge of the Concentration Camps.  What did you know and when did you stop knowing it?

“We had no idea what went on in the Camps.”

“How could we know – they kept it a secret.”

“And even if we did know, what could we do?”

What could we do indeed…? 

The issue is not did Nancy Pelosi lie about knowing.  The real issue is did she know and do nothing to stop it?

Senator Kit Bond has already admitted that he knew and we know he did nothing to stop it.

Water Boarding is torture.  Torture is against the law and against the very principles for which the United States stands

Those who carried out torture against prisoners should be tried and punished if found guilty.

Those who ordered the use of torture should be tried and punished if found guilty.

Those in the chain of command, military or civilian, who knew that torture was being used and did nothing to stop it, should pay a price for their cowardice. In this regard the GOP is no less guilty; if Pelosi knew, then you can be sure that THEY knew.

If the US Courts found that a lowly Concentration Camp Guard, who was not accused by the US Government of committing any particular act of torture or murder or abuse of prisoners but whose “mere presence at a place were admittedly horrible things happened, was sufficient to find him a persecutor” then how can the Courts, and by extension we the people of the United States, ignore those who ordered the use of torture, those who conducted torture, and especially those who know this crime was being committed and did nothing to stop it?

Sometimes holding the moral high ground obliges one to act in a moral fashion to defend it.  Now is one of those times.

1 LA Times April 2009

2 Huffington Post article by Dinesh Ramde March 19, 2009

3 Video Clip posted on Youtube April 28, 2009

4 CNN / Opinion Research Corporation poll reported on May 6th, 2009.;_ylt=AnVnX0UNs9Lz8OeUr4jdkbIHcggF

5 Although Senator Bond never served in the military his son is a Marine Corps officer who has served two tours in combat as a Marine Platoon Commander.  One presumes that should the enemy ever capture his son that Senator Bond would object to him being subjected to “Enhanced Interrogation.”

6 If we accept the argument of “any and all means in order to win” or in other words the classic “the Ends Justify the Means” then why do we not use poison gas against the enemy?  It would certainly be more efficient and would save the lives of many American soldiers.  Many US leaders, both civilian and military called for the use of poison gas against the Japanese after the appalling casualties suffered by the Marines at the Battle of Tarawa in 1942.  FDR had ruled out the use of gas but if we had been forced to actually invade Japan perhaps Truman would have changed his mind and allowed the use of poison gas against the Japanese.  As it was the Atom Bomb made the invasion unnecessary and so too the question of using poison gas.   See Before the Bomb: How America Approached the End of the Pacific War by John David Chappell   c1997   ISBN: 0813119871


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