THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Barack Obama, Torture Enabler

Spain Enforces America’s Laws

America is a nation of laws–laws enforced by Spain.

John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes and Douglas Feith wrote, authorized and promulgated the Justice Department “torture memos” that the Bush Administration used for legal cover. After World War II, German lawyers for the Ministry of Justice went to prison for similar actions.

We’ve known about Yoo et al.’s crimes for years. Yet–unlike their victims–they’re free as birds, fluttering around, writing op/ed columns…and teaching. At law school!

Obama has failed to match changes of tone with changes in substance on the issue of Bush’s war crimes. “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” he answered when asked whether he would investigate America’s worst human rights abuses since World War II. Indeed, there’s no evidence that Obama’s Justice Department plans to lift a finger to hold Bush or his henchmen accountable.

“They should arrest Obama for trying to impersonate a President,” one wag commented on The San Francisco Chronicle‘s website.

Fortunately for those who care about U.S. law, there are Spanish prosecutors willing to do their job. Baltasar Garzón, the crusading prosecutor who went after General Augusto Pinochet in the ’90s, will likely subpoena the Dirty Half Dozen within the next few weeks. “It would have been impossible to structure a legal framework that supported what happened [in Guantánamo]” without Gonzales and his pals,” argues the criminal complaint filed in Madrid.

When the six miscreants ignore their court dates (as they surely will), Spain will issue international arrest warrants enforceable in the 25 countries that are party to European extradition treaties. All hail King Juan Carlos I!

Which brings us to a leaked report by the Red Cross, famous for its traditional reticence to confront governments. Which means that physicians are enjoined to do no harm. Doctors are prohibited by their ethical code of conduct from attending, much less participating in, torture. (What does this have to do with Bush’s lawyers? Hold on. I’m getting there.)

The Red Cross found that CIA doctors, nurses and/or paramedics “monitored prisoners undergoing waterboarding, apparently to make sure they did not drown. Medical workers were also present when guards confined prisoners in small boxes, shackled their arms to the ceiling, kept them in frigid cells and slammed them repeatedly into walls,” reports The New York Times.

“Even if the medical worker’s intentions had been to prevent death or permanent injury,” the report said, they would have violated medical ethics. But they weren’t there to protect anyone but the CIA. They even “condoned and participated in ill treatment….[giving] instructions to interrogators to continue, to adjust or to stop particular methods.” Charming.

Since 1945, at least 70 doctors around the world have been prosecuted for participating in torture. But not Bush’s CIA torture facilitators. Not by this president. Asked to comment on the Red Cross report, a spokesman for CIA director Leon Panetta replied that Panetta “has stated repeatedly that no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished.” (There’s the lawyer connection.)

Which is similar to what Obama said about the torturers: “At the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.” Don’t you just hate being micromanaged when you’re torturing people?

Ah, the great shell game of American justice. You can’t prosecute the torturers because their lawyers advised them that torture was OK. You can’t prosecute the lawyers because all they did was theorize–they didn’t torture anyone. You can’t prosecute the president and vice president who ordered the torture because they have “executive privilege” and, anyway, who would put a head of state on trial? What is this, Peru?

What’s the flip side of a victimless crime? A perpless crime?

It’s a neat circle, or would be if it fit, but drink some coffee and let the caffeine do its thing and it soon becomes apparent that it doesn’t come close. The trouble for the Bushies, and now for Obama–they’re his torturers now–is that lawyers are bound by a higher code than following orders.

Yoo, Bybee, Addington, Gonzales, Haynes and Feith were asked by the White House to come up with legal cover for what they knew or ought to have known were illegal acts under U.S. law, international law, and treaties including the Geneva Conventions (which were ratified by the U.S. and therefore hold the force of U.S. law). Since they don’t deny what they did–indeed, they continue to justify it–their presumed defense if they wound up on trial in Europe would be that they were just following orders.

However, the decision in the 1948 trials of German attorneys immortalized in the fictionalized film “Judgment at Nuremberg” makes clear that a lawyer’s duty is to the law–not his government. And not just his own country’s law–international law.
The Nuremberg tribunal acknowledged that Nazi Germany was an absolute dictatorship in which everyone answered to Adolf Hitler and could be shot for disobeying.

Nevertheless, the court ruled, “there were [German] restrictions for Hitler under international law.” Despite his total legal authority within Germany, Hitler “could issue orders [that violated] international law.” Obeying a direct order from Hitler, in other words, was illegal if it violated international law. And German lawyers went to prison for doing just that.

The six lawyers about to face charges in Spain didn’t have to worry about Nazi firing squads. They were rank opportunists trying to advance their careers in an Administration that viewed laws as quaint, inconvenient obstacles. Here’s how not scared they are: Feith recently penned an op/ed in The Wall Street Journal daring–double-daring–Obama’s Justice Department to go after him.

“If President Barack Obama and the prosecutors see a crime to be prosecuted, they can act,” Feith wrote.

One can only hope. In the meantime, we’ll always have Spain.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

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11 Responses to “THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Barack Obama, Torture Enabler”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    “Don’t you just hate being micromanaged when you’re torturing people?”

    There’s a line that’s both hilarious and disgusting at the same time.

    Well put Ted.

  2. Santiago Says:

    Ted,

    Is there an online source for The Wall Street Journal op/ed by Feith? I know I can look for it, but I want to make sure I got the right one.

    Thanks!

    As a commentary,

    It makes me really glad that my entire ancestry goes back to Spain. I’ve seriously considered moving there, and perhaps I should now.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Good Job TED!!!!

  4. phil Says:

    Fantastic article. Yeah, if Yoo et al were conjuring up ‘legal’ definitions, then they WERE bypassing Int’l Law. By the very act of conjuring up. Let’s get ’em for ‘Conjuring Up’. That’s gotta be a few years for that…

  5. Santiago Says:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123871971773584991.html

    Found it.

  6. G. M. Palmer Says:

    Ah Spain,

    Prosecution of war criminals, legalized drugs, gay marriage, poverty, 1 euro boxes of wine, and a continual skating on the gneiss of Civil War. A damn fine country.

  7. Incitatus Says:

    It would be nice to see this gang behind bars, but I see no reason to celebrate Garzón’s latest antics. He’s a publicity whore and a leftist hypocrite: he “missed” the chance of subpoenaing El Comandante Fidel when said dictatoe was in Spanish territory, a much easier catch than getting Pinochet extradited.

  8. andreas Says:

    great article…

    that was always the number 1 thing that bugged me – if Nazis decided to quit, they risked having themselves families would have been strung up on hooks to die slowly and painfully.

    those US,UK,NATO scum politicians and lawyers – they’d simply switch their allegiance to a slightly less well-to-do but much more numerous group and would be selling books by the hundreds of thousands (why I couldn’t go on supporting the war – an inside story, etc.)

    what a horrible prospect…

  9. Orville Says:

    Spot on as ever, Ted.
    It’s ironic that people (and the media) are upset over the revocation of “conscience clauses”, in which doctors can revoke services that they morally object to. This is a clear violation of medical ethics. (Further, this policy includes potentially lifesaving treatment, like, say blood transfusions, or anti-AIDS drugs.) Meanwhile they ignore a clear-cut violation of both medical ethics and the law.

    And, lest we forget, Spain had the good sense to kick out the lying Zapatero government, and was one of the first nations to get troops out of Iraq…

  10. Grouchy Says:

    What’s the flip side of a victimless crime? A perpless crime?

    Brilliant!

  11. Anonymous Says:

    This garson is a fascist and all the sapnish government are damned francoist. Ask the Catalonians and the Basque how good is to be under the fascist genociadal boot of the castilian francoist.

    It’s all rubbish. Garson never does anything, he’s just a miserable fascist show-off.

    Asspain is a fascist country, much worse than the states. Long live an independent Catalonia. Long live America.

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