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The Writing on the Wall?

Mark A. Goldman                                                                  Revised: 4/23/09



Dick Cheney is not denying that he was a key instigator, designer, and supporter of the Bush administration’s torture policies which were used against detainees at American prisons and elsewhere. His main objection to the recent release of Bush administration memos authorizing torture is that the current administration did not also release memos detailing how successful the torture techniques were in gaining information that was considered valuable.

There is no question that totally innocent people were detained, persecuted, and tortured without any legal process whatsoever. In fact, the record shows that most of the people captured and mistreated were totally innocent of any wrongdoing. And yet these innocent people were fed through a system designed to uncover which few, if any, out of the many had information the CIA or other agencies might find valuable.

Cheney’s logic is that it is perfectly appropriate to detain and torture anyone you want because if you can detain enough people who fit a certain profile, you will eventually find someone who can give you useful information. According to him and others like him, this makes torture an appropriate intelligence gathering tool and this efficiency justifies its use. You only have to ignore the fact that torture is legally and morally reprehensible no matter who is subjected to it, not to mention the irrelevant fact that more often than not it does not produce any useful information.

I would think that this kind of thinking would send shivers down the spine of any American, indeed any human being, who gets wind of it. It means that no human being is safe and secure in his or her person; that any person might become a victim of torture, because whether or not you are tortured has nothing to do with your guilt or innocence (as if guilt would justify torture in any event); that whether or not you get tortured is only a question of who has power over you, and whether those who do believe that you might know something you're not telling that might be useful to them. It negates the most fundamental tenets of jurisprudence or human decency that has evolved in Western Civilization over the last 1,200 years or so. In this consciousness, anyone in power can do what they want with you if they think you might know something that they want to know but might be withholding.

This is the kind of law that Bush and Cheney and those who supported them understand. This is the law of the unitary executive, which can only be described as the law of the despot.

So far, Barack Obama’s understanding of the rule of law is also out of sync with national and international norms. During his administration, he apparently intends that the words “I was only following orders” should be a proper defense against being prosecuted for crimes you commit. And as long as you commit those crimes on behalf of your government he will consider you to be a hero worthy of praise… that innocent victims of crimes committed by you and your government are not entitled to any form of justice… that there is no point in laying blame even for the deaths of more than a million innocent men, women, and children (mostly women and children), and others who were maimed, brutalized, orphaned, or impoverished because of your lies, deceit, or betrayal of basic human rights provisions guaranteed under the US Constitution and international treaties which the United States not only signed onto, but which the United States sponsored and promoted.

If these are the people we elect to protect the Constitution and this is their understanding of the rule of law, and we allow them to get away with this, then what does that make us?

Can't you see the writing on the wall?

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