Friday, April 17, 2009

Open Letter to the President of the United States

Dear Mr. President,
I was relieved that your Department of Justice chose to release the memos written under the Bush Administration that authorized and justified torture.
I am also very happy that you have issued an Executive Order that requires that the CIA follow the Army Field Manual strictures on interrogation of suspected terrorists.
That being said, I find that I must disagree with you in the strongest of terms, when you and the Attorney General have granted effective immunity to the CIA case officers and the contractors working for them that, in the name of the United States, tortured prisoners in our custody.
As you are well aware, torture is prohibited by both US Law and treaties that the US has signed.
You do not have the authority under our Constitution, to decide not to allow prosecution of people that might have broken both US and International law. We, as a nation, share responsibility for these crimes, but we cannot use our collective guilt to shield the individual guilt of those who justified torture, or those who authorized torture, or those who actually tortured prisoners in our custody.
I call upon you to direct the Attorney General to appoint a special counsel, similar to the special counsel appointed to investigate the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity, to investigate and prosecute as necessary the allegations that representatives of the United States Government justified, authorized, or actually committed acts of torture on prisoners in our custody, either in acknowledged locations like Abu Grahib or Guantanamo Bay or the "Black" prisons reportedly operated by the CIA.
We are a nation of laws. It is important, even critical, for us as a people and a nation to acknowledge the crimes that were committed in our name and to prosecute those who are involved.
Personally I would suspect that most juries would acquit the actual torturers because of the thin film of cover provided by the Justice Department decisions, and would (hopefully) convict those who justified and authorized actions that, despite the Justice Department decisions, were so clearly violations of US and International Law
I supported you because I hoped/thought/prayed that you really were different, that you really would take on the hard things. There is no doubt this is a hard thing.
But it is necessary that we acknowledge our mistakes and prosecute those responsible for committing acts of torture. It is necessary for us to restore our moral standing in the world to admit our mistakes and correct them.
I remain excited about almost all of what you are doing.
On this though, I beg you to reconsider your position, hard as I know that to be, and enforce the law. Let the chips fall where they may.
Thank you
Walt Stoelting


Matty said...

I hate to eavesdrop on your highly personal communiqué with the CIC but I must address this. I'm on page 50 of 80 of these documents and I have yet to come across anything disturbing. I'm actually mildly impressed with the level of care paid to the extremely limited cases where the selected techniques are authorized.

I see no point in discussing this in generalities so can you share specifically what in the docs is so offensive? I'll try to get through the remaining 30 pages and maybe we can determine what exactly we're talking about here.

Uncle Walt said...

I find this all to be very depressing.
How is it that we, in the United States of America, are discussing the circumstances under which its acceptable to torture people.
After Japan surrendered and ended WWII, America tried, convicted, and executed Japanese soldiers for war crimes because the Japanese soldiers waterboarded Americans held in their prison camps.
Torture is a crime under US and International law. No amount of discussion about how bad Abu Zubaydah was, or Al Zawahari was, or how bad any of our other prisoners were torture is immoral and illegal.
As a result of the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials in Europe after WWII, it became firmly established in boht US and International law that just following orders did not justify committing a crime.
The concept that some people will perform all sorts of mental gymnastics to justify the unjustifiable doesn't suprise me.
The fact that the gymnastics were performed by a high official of the United States Government at the request of even higher officials depresses me.

Matty said...

If you want to try and execute waterboarders you could start with the US military SERE instructors who have waterboarded tens of thousands of US servicemen. That must be a far greater crime than the exactly 3 detainees who have received it, right?

I still contend (as of page 68 of 80) that the techniques do not fall into the category of torture - and that's no gymnastics. Discomfort applied to high-level prisoners who it is believed have information on imminent attacks does not seem unreasonable, particularly under the strict limitations applied.

I'm sorry, your case just isn't convincing me that we talking about torture here.

Uncle Walt said...

How is it that the identity of the victim has any bearing on whether a crime was committed?
The Iranian government had arrested and just convicted an American journalist of espionage. How would you expect the United States government to react if the Iranians had waterboarded her? Would you care that they had a doctor standing by?? Would it matter if they only intended to waterboard her for 5 minutes at a time instead of 10??
If waterboarding is torture is a crime, then its a crime, no matter who the vicitm.
If a person is gunned down on the street, thats murder. Its of no bearing if it was a church pastor or a convicted felon, its still murder.
The whole issue of using waterboarding during training is a false comparison and you should know it. Put two people in a boxing ring (or many other sports venues) and you can do things that on the street would be, at a minimum, assualt. Soldiers are trained to resist whatever they might face. Waterboarding them in training is no different than teaching them to fight by putting them in hand to hand combat training.
You can stick all the limitations and protections you want around an illegal act and its still illegal. Waterboarding is torture. We as a nation have said so when we executed Japanese soldiers for using that very technique.
Its still torture.
The identity of the victim is not relevant.
Nor should it be.

Matty said...

Not a bad argument but I'm still not convinced that the technique falls under torture.

To be honest, I would rest easier about the well-being of the American journo if she were being detained in Gitmo as a high value target rather than Tehran.... does that answer your question?

Do you have any citation on the execution of Japanese soldiers FOR waterboarding rather than execution of those who performed waterboarding (perhaps among other techniques)? There's a massive difference between those two phrases.

I find it hard to call tens of thousands of American service members victims when they volunteered. They could have opted out of that training at any point up to and during the process. To say otherwise borders on an insult to their intelligence.

Uncle Walt said...

I guess I wasn't clear in what I was trying to say about those of our troops that are waterboarded during SERE type training.
I am not calling them victims.
I understand that they volunteered for the training to better prepare themselves for what might happen to them if they are captured.
They are recieving that tranining voluntarily.
The same cannot be said for our prisoners.
I still contend to compare the training our troops receive, where they know for certain that the instructors are not going to kill them and the medics are going to protect them and that after a few times at most it will end and one of our prisoners who doesn't know that we won't kill them, have no reason to believe that the doctor standing by will actually protect them and may well be waterboarded dozens or even hundreds of times.
Those experiences are fundamentally different.
The first reference I found for our war crimes trials in Japan after WWII is here
I stand corrected, the soldiers were not executed, they were sentenced to 15 years in prison.
I don't believe the Iranians would offer the American Journalist the option of being held at GITMO. Which was, of course, not the question.
If the Iranians waterboarded her, would you accept that as acceptable treatment for an American?