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Friday, December 12, 2008

Crimes Without Consequence

A new Senate Armed Services Committee report [PDF] begins with the words of Gen. David Petraeus -- who the right has convinced themselves sits directly at Jesus's side in the pantheon of the unquestionable:

What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight... is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings.

It's ironic then, that the report details not humanity, but monstrosity. The document, titled "Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody," kills neocon blame-shifting on its very first page:

The Abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of "a few bad apples" acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority. This report is a product of the committees inquiry into how those unfortunate results came about.

In their cowardice, top Bush administration officials blamed everything on personnel acting on their own. Donald Rumsfeld, in testimony to the committee, said, "In recent days, there has been a good deal of discussion about who bears responsibility for the terrible activities that took place at Abu Ghraib. These events occurred on my watch. As secretary of defense, I am accountable for them. I take full responsibility. It is my obligation to evaluate what happened, to make sure those who have committed wrongdoing are brought to justice, and to make changes as needed to see that it doesn't happen again."

After taking "full responsibility," Rumsfeld almost immediately blamed it on others.

"It's important for the American people and the world to know that while these terrible acts were perpetrated by a small number of the U.S. military," he said, "they were also brought to light by the honorable and responsible actions of other military personnel." Rummie had nothing to do with it and was grateful that good people brought it out in the open. "It's all my fault -- although it pays to remember that I had absolutely nothing to do with it."

"I take full responsibility" has always been a magic incantation the Bush administration has used to avoid taking responsibility and avoid consequence. The theory seems to be that saying it is the consequence of wrongdoing. Say the magic words -- even if you contradict them right away -- and you're off the hook. Meanwhile, right wing media argues that what you did was exactly the right thing to do and that you're a freakin' hero -- no matter how lousy and stupid and counterproductive your actions were. As I've already said, the White House neocons are cowards -- and right wing media applauds them for it.

But cowardice only works for so long. You can hide behind others, but they drop one by one and you're left with no one to hide behind. You can keep throwing sacrifices into the volcano, but sooner or later, you run out of people to throw. The Senate report places the blame squarely where it belongs:

New York Times:

The report was issued jointly by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican. It represents the most thorough review by Congress to date of the origins of the abuse of prisoners in American military custody, and it explicitly rejects the Bush administration’s contention that tough interrogation methods have helped keep the country and its troops safe.

The report also rejected previous claims by Mr. Rumsfeld and others that Defense Department policies played no role in the harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and in other episodes of abuse.

There are no surprises in the report. The testimony used in compiling it was public and commented on again and again. Bush, Rumsfeld, and other top White House officials are ultimately responsible for the actions of their "few bad apples." Even Bush rhetoric was so inconsistent that taking it at face value would be absurd. The White House argued that the Geneva Conventions didn't apply to detainees, since they were "unlawful combatants." But, at the same time, we were assured that the US doesn't torture. Why point out that you think you legally could torture these guys if you weren't planning to? As always, Team Bush believed that anyone who doesn't work in the White House is stupid. You'd never figure out the obvious, because only neocons are capable of thought.

In fact, Bush himself authorized torture, at least indirectly, by arguing in favor of it's legality. The report tells us:

On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention. The President's order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would've afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees...

Why say that international law didn't apply if you weren't planning on violating it? Wouldn't that make the "fact" you've just made up an uninteresting bit of trivia? "We could torture these guys -- of course, we're not going to -- but remember, it'd be totally legal if we did" doesn't do much to put down suspicion.

There's a lot more -- 19 pages in all -- but there isn't anything there we didn't know. Bush, Rumsfeld, Pearl, Yoo, various and sundry other morons, are all torturers. They didn't do it personally, but they had it done. And they did it in the most cowardly way possible, but trying to avoid responsibility with what they thought would be plausible deniability.

They needn't have bothered trying to hide their guilt. The Senate Armed Services Committee report is just that -- a report. It comes with no consequence. The torturers in the White House get the wagging senatorial finger and they'll go on to write books and make big money on speaking tours. Having already established that there is no such thing as an impeachable offense, the congress is poised to set the precedent that it's impossible for Executive branch officials to commit war crimes. There is no longer any offense so heinous, so evil, so contrary to our common decency that the offender can't possibly avoid paying for it. The bottom has dropped out of the shebang -- there is no bottom, no lower limit to just how lousy and criminal and morally repellant an American president is allowed to be. The White House is the world's smallest anarchy, a patch of land about one city block where no law applies.

Richard Nixon once said, "If the president does it, that means it is not illegal." All these years later, Richard Nixon has won that argument.