from the torture memos

We recognize that as a matter of diplomacy, the United States may for various reasons in various circumstances call another nation to account for practices that may in some respects resemble conduct in which the United States might in some circumstances engage, covertly or otherwise. Diplomatic relations with regard to foreign countries are not reliable evidence of United States executive practice and thus may be of only limited relevance here.

What would George W. Bush’s favorite political philosopher make of that?


Given the paucity of relevant precedent and the subjective nature of the inquiry, however, we cannot predict with confidence that a court would agree with this conclusion, though, for the reasons explained, the question is unlikely to be subject to judicial inquiry.

As Chris Floyd put it, “To be sure, Bradbury was politically astute enough to recognize that the essential unity of America’s power-structure elite means that it is almost impossible for anyone who would genuinely and actively pursue imperial crimes to ever reach the top … And just as Bradbury foresaw, Obama has slammed the door shut on such judicial inquiries.”

Even if torture weren’t happening under his own administration (and it is), Barack Obama is giving the most abhorrently brutal and sadistic torturers in future administrations exactly what they want. If war crimes like Bush’s are matched or exceeded by succeeding administrations, Obama will bear a large part of the responsibility. Saying “we don’t torture anymore” (again, especially if we still do) is not enough.

Something else that struck me today was that President Obama’s refusal to prosecute torturers based on the rationale that they were “only following orders” — an abdication of responsibility that violates the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles, and the Convention Against Torture — is counterbalanced by the Spanish attorney general’s rejection of the criminal case against Bush administration officials based on the rationale that “If one is dealing with a crime of mistreatment of prisoners of war, the complaint should go against those who physically carried it out.”

Given that the Bush and Obama administrations both threatened to reconsider Anglo-American intelligence-sharing agreements if UK courts released documents regarding the torture of Binyam Mohamed, would it be terribly far-fetched to suggest that some influence was exerted on Spain as well, as part of a nascent campaign to establish an ironclad international precedent protecting every participant in US torture programs from accountability, forever? (intimations from “administration officials” notwithstanding)

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