Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Punishable by Death

Andrew Sullivan makes a rather compelling case for why Bush, Cheney, Yoo and the lot of them had better be interviewing some damned talented lawyers. In a nutshell:
[T]he interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn't-somehow-torture - "enhanced interrogation techniques" - is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.
Here's the scariest/most depressing part of Sullivan's post:

Also: the use of hypothermia, authorized by Bush and Rumsfeld, was initially forbidden [by the Nazis]. 'Waterboarding" was forbidden too, unlike that authorized by Bush. As time went on, historians have found that all the bureaucratic restrictions were eventually broken or abridged. Once you start torturing, it has a life of its own.
We have a president who loses in comparison with early Nazis in terms of his support of torture.

Most damning in all this is the fact that war-crimes trials in 1948 in Norway essentially nullify the Bush administration's assertion that they're not obligated to comply with the Geneva Convention because the "enemy combatants" they're torturing are not in uniform, stripping away the only conceiveable defense they have for their actions. Nor did the notion that the Nazi criminals tried in Norway were humane with some of their captives earn them any clemency:

The victims, by the way, were not in uniform. And the Nazis tried to argue, just as John Yoo did, that this made torturing them legit. The victims were paramilitary Norwegians, operating as an insurgency, against an occupying force. And the torturers had also interrogated some prisoners humanely. But the argument, deployed by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Nazis before them, didn't wash with the court. Money quote:

As extenuating circumstances, Bruns had pleaded various incidents in which he had helped Norwegians, Schubert had pleaded difficulties at home, and Clemens had pointed to several hundred interrogations during which he had treated prisoners humanely.

The Court did not regard any of the above-mentioned circumstances as a sufficient reason for mitigating the punishment and found it necessary to act with the utmost severity. Each of the defendants was responsible for a series of incidents of torture, every one of which could, according to Art. 3 (a), (c) and (d) of the Provisional Decree of 4th May, 1945, be punished by the death sentence.
Of course it's pointless to draw this parallel without outlining what one feels is the appropriate response by the rest of the world. Should Bush et al. be tried as war criminals? The mere notion strikes some folks as treason. The fact of the matter is that, unless we lose this "war," there's little chance anyone could get a court to hear the case. And it's worth remembering that Bush has not done anything even remotely as evil as what the Nazis eventually wrought.

Sullivan sort of cops out in calling for a response, though. I understand why. I'm at a loss for what I think the appropriate response (aside from impeachment [and even there, mostly because of the domestic spying issue, where he clearly intended to break the law]) should be. To watch a US president tried for war crimes doesn't strike me as a good thing for this nation. There's no easy path back from that point.

We'll have to wait for the stories of those tortured via Bush's authorization to emerge to see how we really feel about all this, I suspect. Too many of them, of course, will not be telling any tales.

How on earth did we get to this point?

Labels: torture


Blogger Mark said...

How on earth did we get to this point?

Is it almost over? Aneurysm, I have to go lie down. I can't think of any trials other than those of a loser ( in war). If it were to happen, as you say, it wouldn't be good for the country, although the gang is definitely guilty. As an aside there is something eerily gratifying about the Chinese Government about to execute an executive for embezzling, Enron, Haliburton, etc..

5/30/2007 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Bob said...


I think war crimes trials is EXACTLY what this nation needs. Yes, there is "no easy path from that point" of trials, but right now there is no easy path from "this point" of our government gone insane. An ascension from the madness that we've descended into is going to be painful, like any rehabilitation. South Africa had a very long, traumatic Truth and Reconciliation Commission open up all the wounds of apartheid in an exchange of information for clemency. America needs their own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but we need to leave the issue of clemency up to the rest of the world. Let's see if they're in a forgiving mood of the architects of these crimes. I know I'm not.

--Bob (

5/30/2007 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous james leonard said...

For over a year now, I've felt quite overwhelmed and depressed by the breadth of constancy of scandal and crimes of this administration. I'm also frustrated to tears by the complacency of so many citizens and elected officials. Tell me again why we don't have enough votes for impeachment? Why aren't those of us in very left leaning cities conducting general labor strikes?

I've spent the b*sh years fighting it, trying to stay a good person, to remain hopeful. But I feel like I've spent 10 rounds playing into a Rovian rope-a-dope. Scandalize the doves into exhaustion!

This all plugs in to the internal, existential shift I alluded to last week in the comments following Ed's post about Bitching vs. Outrage. (The Limits III, I think?) The value I attach to the arts has become unfastened. My very definition of a good artist is in flux. What sort of culture do I want to contribute to? What speaks to my heart? Can I find some responsible means of release, of expression, of respite, of action within my work or within the work of others? What do I want to leave?

More and more, I find myself listening to music from the Vietnam era. Corny and retrograde, I know. But I feel less alone when I do. Where is that sort of expression of today? I think I'm beginning to understand tacitly the deep sorrow of that era. (I was a toddler when we bid Saigon farewell.) In dark hours like this, it becomes too easy to see American history as a string of black black pearls of deeds done in our name: from the Wounded Knee to the Spanish American War to the Phillipines to Iran Contra and Bush II. That version paints a pretty hostile portrait of the U.S.

5/30/2007 02:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

given the nazi angle, i suppose it makes perfect sense then that george will be retiring to a ranch in paraguay once his part in this fiasco is a wrap . . . i suppose dick goes to dubai? that is, if his ticker doesn't blow first . . . anyhow, both will likely be guarded night and day in their compounds by blackwater mercenaries. no one gets near them.

these two will never be tried for war crimes unless they can somehow be kidnapped in the dead of night like eichmann was, and dragged into the hague against their will. who'd sponsor such a venture? somehow, i don't think the mossad is up for this one.

5/30/2007 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

James Leonard sez:
More and more, I find myself listening to music from the Vietnam era. Corny and retrograde, I know.

I have an MP3 of John Prine's Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore. It inspired me to make a bumper sticker.

Corny, retrograde, and useless. Yes.

5/30/2007 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Depressing. It is amazing to me that week after week, and now year after's like no one cares what an American President or government does...when did the apathy happen?

5/30/2007 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Lots of people care. The Iraqis care quite a bit, actually. And, as I recall, a few young men cared enough to crash a few planes and take 3,000 people with them. People do care.

Americans care, too, but somehow we've been cut out of the loop. Maybe we've always been out of the loop. Every election is between Tweedledum and Tweedledumber -- do we ever really have a choice? Maybe past elections look important just because, with distance, we forget how pointless all of it was.

This isn't a new situation anyway. I just finished reading Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Sir Alistair Horne. And it's amazing how stupid the leaders were then, too, and how many people went along with their stupidity anyway. If anything was going to teach humanity a lesson you'd think it'd be World War I -- I mean, it sounds horrible that we've lost 3,600 or so soldiers in the five or so years of the Iraq War, when easily 100 times that died in a single day at Verdun.

But there's always hope. There's art, and love, and babies being born. It may not seem like much, but I do think it will win in the end.

5/30/2007 05:25:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Meanwhile, White House witnesses don't want to have to testify to Congress under oath...

5/30/2007 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger Oly said...

I think true modern-day apathy pretty much started right around the Iran Contra affair.

It seems to have peaked and ebbed since then-- but hope is a rare commodity these days, if at all.

Maybe Borat can kidnap them at a book signing perhaps?


5/31/2007 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am reminded of that scene in Shindlers List where the old man, carrying a suitcase, pushing his family onto a train, says, it can't get worse than this, it can's get worse than this. It starts small, and builds. I've been following the blog of a local prosecution attorney, and poet; his passion for the law is inspiring.

I guess its all about doing something, getting involved.

6/02/2007 05:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops.I should have send Defending attorney.

6/02/2007 06:05:00 AM  

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