on just following orders

jeremy scahill blogged this bit of important news yesterday about obama and the cia torture memos:

Just two days after President Obama publicly announced he would not seek prosecution of CIA torturers because they had “in good faith” obeyed the orders of the Bush administration in their torture of other human beings, the UN is weighing in. The world body’s rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, told the Austrian paper Der Standard Obama’s refusal to prosecute is a breach of international law.

“The United States, like all other states that are part of the U.N. convention against torture, is committed to conducting criminal investigations of torture and to bringing all persons against whom there is sound evidence to court,” Nowak said.

Nowak, according to Reuters, “suggested an investigation by an independent commission before suspects were tried and said it would be important for all victims to receive compensation.”

This comes at the end of a week which can only be described as a victorious one for torturers. Not only did Obama, CIA Director Leon Panetta and Attorney General Eric Holder assure the CIA torturers that they would not be prosecuted (Obama said it was a time for “reflection not retribution”), but Spain’s Attorney General said his courts would not permit a prosecution of the “Bush 6” for their involvement in legally sanctioning US torture policy. In his first remarks on that case, Obama said he wanted to “look forward, not backwards.” The six include Alberto Gonzales, the ex attorney general, Pentagon official Douglas Feith and Justice Department lawyer John Yoo. Yoo is believed to be the co-author of the now infamous “Bybee memo,” which was among the four memos released on Thursday by the Justice Department (after the ACLU sued) and provided a legal justification for waterboarding, banging prisoners against walls, placing them in wooden boxes, sleep deprivation other forms of torture.

Meanwhile, Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky blasted the decision not to prosecute CIA torturers. “This notion that ‘I was just obeying orders’ — I don’t want to compare this to Nazi Germany, but we’ve come to almost ridicule the notion that when horrific acts have been committed that people can use the excuse that, ‘Well, I was just following orders,’” she said. Schakowsky, who is on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence says that if the committee chair doesn’t proceed with investigations, her staff will.

for some further context into american torturing i recommend watching al jazeera’s new program “fault lines” (terrific name) with avi lewis and josh rushing (fabulous team). lewis interviews richard armitage who seems to think that he is above the law because he was “just following orders.” meanwhile rushing interviews maher arar, the syrian canadian man who the united states flew to syria to be tortured in one of its more public extraordinary rendition cases. this program and its interviews are reminders why scahill’s pressing for the release of these torture memos–and for the prosecution of those who tortured and those who gave orders–must persist.


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