Friday, April 24, 2009

Honor And The Lack Thereof

If you want an example of how disconnected our federal government is from the world that the rest of us live in, you can't do much better than to contemplate the case of Alyssa Peterson and then contrast it with the behavior of the Congress, the Senate in particular, and the President over the last few days.

As Kevin Elston of the Arizona Republic reports:

A Flagstaff soldier who in 2003 became the third woman to die in Iraq killed herself two weeks after objecting to the interrogation techniques being used on Iraqi prisoners, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Spc. Alyssa Peterson, 27, an Arabic-speaking interrogator who trained at Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona, was assigned to a unit at Tal Afar Air Base in northwestern Iraq. According to a criminal investigation report recently released by the military under the Freedom of Information Act, Peterson had been in Iraq for two weeks and participated in two interrogations in late August 2003.

She objected to interrogation techniques after the first session, the documents show, and after the second session she told her supervisor that she "could not carry out" the interrogation methods that were being used and asked to be reassigned.

Her objections came seven months before the prisoner abuse allegations at Abu Ghraib prison in central Iraq became public.

Soldier Opposed Interrogations

Greg Mitchell notes in an article at the Huffington Post:

The official probe of her death would later note that earlier she had been "reprimanded" for showing "empathy" for the prisoners. One of the most moving parts of the report, in fact, is this: "She said that she did not know how to be two people; she ... could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire."

She was then assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards, and sent to suicide prevention training. "But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle," the documents disclose.

The official report revealed that a notebook she had written in was found next to her body, but blacked out its contents.

U.S. Soldier Killed Herself -- After Refusing to Take Part in Torture

In short, Specialist Peterson was another victim of the illegal behavior of the Bush Administration and the people who supported it, and the Army did its best to cover up this fact. This young woman was apparently so disturbed by what she had experienced while interrogating Iraqi prisoners, or the isolation that had resulted from refusing to commit the crime of torture, that she took her own life. Which of those reasons it is may be impossible to find out, thanks in part to our "leadership".

Now, let's contrast her with the behavior of the Democratic "leadership" today, as Glenn Greenwald summarizes:

[A]s they have done for years, Democratic leaders continue to lead the way in shielding Bush crimes from scrutiny and stifling public disclosure of what was done. Obama met yesterday with Congressional leaders and emphatically argued against the establishment of a Truth Commission, insisting that such an inquiry would interfere with his political agenda. Senate Majority "Leader" Harry Reid then dutifully and obediently announced that Senate Democrats will block any such investigations in favor of a Senate Intelligence Committee proceeding that will occur largely in secret and will not be completed until the end of the year, at least (I remember when Democrats used to mock GOP leaders for having Dick Cheney come to Congress and give them their marching orders). Democratic Congressional leaders are doing now what they did throughout the Bush presidency: namely, pretending to oppose what was done while doing everything possible to protect and enable it and shield the wrongdoers from scrutiny (in large part because some of the wrongdoing was by their own party).

Obama's ostensible motives here are no better. The claim that punishing Bush crimes will undermine his political interests is not only false (as Krugman definitively establishes today) but also corrupt. Democrats spent the last several years vehemently complaining about the "politicization of the Justice Department" under Alberto Gonzales. Yet so many of these same Democrats are now demanding that the Obama DOJ refrain from prosecuting Bush criminals based on purely political grounds: namely, that those prosecutions will interfere with Obama's political agenda.

Democratic Complicity and What "politicizing justice" Really Means

[links and emphasis from original]

As Glenn notes, NYT columnist and Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman examined the marginal cost of supporting open inquiries to the Obama Administration, and found it mostly illusory:

[W]ould investigating the crimes of the Bush era really divert time and energy needed elsewhere? Let’s be concrete: whose time and energy are we talking about?

Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to rescue the economy. Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to reform health care. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to limit climate change. Even the president needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job — which he’s supposed to do in any case — and not get in the way of any Congressional investigations.

I don’t know about you, but I think America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.

Still, you might argue — and many do — that revisiting the abuses of the Bush years would undermine the political consensus the president needs to pursue his agenda.

But the answer to that is, what political consensus? There are still, alas, a significant number of people in our political life who stand on the side of the torturers. But these are the same people who have been relentless in their efforts to block President Obama’s attempt to deal with our economic crisis and will be equally relentless in their opposition when he endeavors to deal with health care and climate change. The president cannot lose their good will, because they never offered any.

Reclaiming America’s Soul

Frankly, I haven't noticed any give on the part of Republicans. If someone can point some out, feel free. They seem completely determined to maintain torture as one of the options of our government. So far, President Obama and the Democratic Caucus seem determined to not stand in their way. The best you can say for any of them is that Obama is no longer outwardly standing in the way of criminal investigations by the Department of Justice. Of course, as Glenn noted, he's not supposed to interfere.

The Washington press have been little better. They've been portraying the revelations about torture as nothing more than another political issue, as if what we're really talking about weren't war crimes at all. Even that headline of the Arizona Republic article is misleading. Peterson objected to the torture, not just to the interrogations.

Some days I think Alyssa Peterson had more humanity and honor than the whole of our leadership in DC.

UPDATE: Actually, there's one other good thing that you can say about the Obama Administration on this issue - they're grudgingly granting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that were refused by the previous administration:

The Pentagon, in response to a lawsuit, will end a Bush administration legal battle and release "hundreds" of photos showing abuse or alleged abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. personnel, according to defense officials and civil liberties advocates.

The photographs, to be released by May 28, include 21 images depicting detainee abuse in facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan other than the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, as well as 23 other detainee abuse photos, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a letter from the Justice Department sent to a federal court in New York yesterday.

In addition, the Justice Department letter said "the government is also processing for release a substantial number of other images" contained in dozens of Army Criminal Investigation Division reports on the abuse.

Pentagon to Release Photos of Detainee Abuse Next Month

These images may end up being part of a war crimes trial somewhere. At the moment, though, I'm betting that the United States won't be the site of those trials.


One Fly said...

I will not take that bet Cujo.

Cujo359 said...

It saddens me that we, particularly our government, will be among the last to realize what a wrong we've committed.

Dana Hunter said...

I keep wondering if the reason why these idiots keep debating torture as if it's a political issue, not a moral and criminal one, are doing that precisely because they know that our dumbshit leaders did highly-illegal and terribly immoral things, and they're trying to deceive themselves in order to avoid facing the truth.

That doesn't make the "debate" any less ridiculous, just a little more pathetic.

Cujo359 said...

People who write things like David Broder wrote Sunday just astonish me. I don't know what they think they are talking about, because it's certainly not the world that most of us live in. How can anyone put this down as a political issue? This is something we've put others on trial for in the past, both in courts like Nuremburg and in our own country.