Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Take Action Against Torture

In just the last few days (much faster than I expected), the debate in the U.S. has shifted from “whether” to investigate torture to “what form will the investigation take.”  Congress will probably hold hearings.  Some still want an independent commission.  But the drumbeat for the Dept. of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor for actual trials is growing louder–and nothing either the Republican torture defenders or the Obama administration’s “turn-the-page-we-have-too-much-to-accomplish-to-take-on-something-this-politically-divisive” wafflers can do is going to stop this train.  Thank God. I may have my country back after all.

You see, during the Bush years, what disturbed me most (leading to the only time I ever seriously considered abandoning my citizenship and emigrating elsewhere in Dec. ’04 and Jan. ’05) was not that a criminal cabal had taken over the White House.  That’s happened before and to many other countries that are wonderful places.  No, what freaked me out and depressed me deeply was that so many Americans went along with it.  Sure,  I get it:  From 9/11 onward there was an atmosphere of continual fear created by propaganda (everything from WH press briefings and color-coded terror alerts to Fox News–and CNN–to fictional “terror porn” TV dramas like 24 and The Unit). And the domestic spying and the official word that the president could disappear anyone, anytime, forever, just by declaring them an “enemy combatant” with no review didn’t exactly encourage speaking out.  Nonetheless, the low-level of resistance by average Americans was what demoralized me.

But now we seem to have reached a tipping point.  The Obama campaign released more in Americans than maybe it intended.  The candidate asked us to hope rather than fear and we did.  But something that the Right never seemed to grasp was that we were NOT sheep and not star struck.  The candidate asked us repeatedly, in good community organizing fashion,  to believe not just in HIS ability to change Washington for the better, but in OUR ability  to do so. So, just because Pres. Obama (or part of him) would rather not prosecute anyone doesn’t mean that his supporters, or average Americans, feel the same.

At the end of his 1st 100 Days, the president is hugely popular–more so than Bill Clinton or George W. Bush at this same period.  His policies are supported strongly by both Democrats and Independents.  The public wants MORE, not Less cooperation from Republicans in Congress and from Governors.  (Full numbers are here.) But the president’s popularity, and the popularity of most of his programs, is not translating into support for a free pass for torturers.  Even some Fox News anchors are breaking ranks and denouncing torture!  (Anyone taking bets on how long before Fox News’s Roger Ailes fires Shep Smith?  Will Chris Wallace be next?) This all comes as the most recent discoveries show: 

  • Torture techniques were approved not only by Cheney but by Condi Rice when she was Nat. Sec. Advisor.
  • The Bush admin. began looking to create the torture program before we went to Afghanistan, i.e., before we even had anyone to torture. In Dec. 2001, they called on the generals in charge of SERE, the program that teaches our military how to resist torture, and had them “reverse engineer” it for interrogations.
  • The initial torturing of “high value” detainees like Kahlid Sheik Mohammed (waterboarded 186 times in 1 month= 6x per day) and Zubayda (83 times in one month) was not to obtain intelligence about future attacks, but to try to obtain confessions, even false ones, of operational links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein–to justify the upcoming Iraq invasion!
  • The first female soldier to die in Iraq committed suicide after refusing to participate in torture.
  • The FBI, which initially wanted to be part of all interrogations because it has the proper skills, walked out of CIA interrogations and quickly issued orders that no FBI agent was to participate. Then-FBI Director Robert Muller said, “This will end badly.” Bush threatened to fire him and he said, “Go ahead.”
  • There were administration lawyers who argued AGAINST the “torture is okay and we can call it something else line” and they were silenced and attempts were made to destroy all copies of their legal memos.
  • Rumsfeld lied about Abu Ghraib being a “few bad apples.” It was a result of a deliberate torture interrogation regime brought over from Gitmo and authorized directly by then-Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

  The more these things come to light, the more the public will demand trials.  Attempts to shield CIA agents or Bush administration figures will be viewed with the anger the public had for Pres. Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon in order to “heal the nation.”  It is not revenge or retribution, but a reaffirmation of human rights and the rule of law.

Because of that, I reprint actions you may take to keep the pressure building. (It will probably start with the disbarment of attorneys like John Yoo and the impeachment of Judge Bybee.  It won’t end there.  Expect trials to go on for years.  This clean up will take awhile.)

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) lists several actions which U.S. citizens who are people of faith can take against torture:

  • NRCAT’s own Liliana Segura wrote an article summarizing the worst of the just released Bush torture memos.  NRCAT wants you to copy that article and distribute it at your church, synagogue, mosque, etc. this weekend.
  • Send a letter to the editor of your local paper (while we still have newspapers in this economy!).  They give a model here.
  • Print copies here of NRCAT’s petition for a bi-partisan “Commission of Inquiry” into these matters which will thoroughly expose the matter and send criminal recommendations to the Attorney General.

Faithful America asks that you write letters to local papers urging your local newspapers to write editorials demanding both a Commission of Inquiry and an independent special prosecutor against the authors of the torture memos.

Democrats.com urges you to write Congress and demand NO AMNESTY for torturers and those who authorized the torture.

I have some other suggestions: 

  • Contact the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and demand that CIA Director Leon Panetta FIRE all agents involved in the torture. (As many as he knows. He wasn’t CIA Director under Bush!) They need to be AT LEAST purged and their names sent to the Dept. of Justice for possible legal action and they need to be (forgive the term) “blacklisted” against hire by any other intelligence agency.  Even if Panetta fails to get all the culprits, this action will send a warning to CIA operatives that they cannot take such torture measures, even if authorized by a particular administration to do so.
  • Also urge Director Panetta to turn over the names of the medical personnel involved in interrogations to the American Medical Association. The AMA may want to police its own (who have gone down the Nazi doctor route!) and strip those involved of their licenses to practice medicine.  At the very least, each person named should be reviewed separately by the AMA.
  • Contact the leadership of the American Bar Association (the main professional organization for attorneys at law in the U.S.) and urge them to take steps to strip the authors of the torture memos of their law licenses so that they no longer have the right to practice law in the U.S.–and whatever other sanctions the ABA deems appropriate.  Also, urge the ABA to send a letter to Pres. Obama and Attorney General Holder urging the appointment of a special prosecutor in these cases.
  • Contact Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and urge that the House Judiciary Committe begin impeachment procedures against Judge Jay Bybee of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Yes, one of the torture memo authors, Bybee, was later appointed by Bush to a federal bench just one step below the Supreme Court of the United States!  It’s a lifetime appointment, but judges can be impeached (though they seldom are).  No one who authored one of these horrendous memos should be adjudicating law in the American courts!  One Yale Law professor has already called for his impeachment.  We should try to get prominent Republican judges and lawyers to be part of this movement, because this is not partisan. (I would go after any Democrat who did any of these things, too!) Pres. Bill Clinton lost his law license for perjury in the Lewinsky scandal.  This is far worse.  If I can track down contact information for her, I will ask that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner (a longtime Republican and a protege of the late Barry Goldwater, she was Reagan’s first Supreme Court appointee and the first woman on the Supreme Court of the U.S.), who administered Bybee’s oath, join the call for his impeachment.

With these kinds of actions, we can create the groundswell of public opinion to go after AT LEAST those who authorized the torture.  And we take steps to prevent this from recurring under some other administration.<!– @ 1:44 pm –><!– @ 9:02 am –>


April 23, 2009 - Posted by | torture


  1. I think if Barak Obama does not prosecute Cheney and Rice and Gonzalez, all the lawyers who wrote the torture memos and all CIA interrogators then HE is a war criminal. The Convention Against Torture REQUIRES prosecution. If he does not do it he is retroactively complicity in torture.

    I also think that Nancy Pelosi in particular should be impeached because she approved of the techniques when she was briefed.

    I think they should all be forced to do a perp walk. NO MERCY

    Comment by DON | April 23, 2009

  2. Where can I find a definition of torture? It seems that some Christians are simply saying that what went on wasn’t technically torture, therefore it was okay.

    Comment by Anon | April 23, 2009

  3. Anon, there is no one definition of torture. That’s why both U.S. and international law forbids “cruel, unusual, degrading, or inhumane treatment.”

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 23, 2009

  4. I haven’t made up my mind about the prosecution of the actual CIA agents, who carried out the orders from Bush, Cheney and their subordinates. I agree with you about the AMA and the ABA taking action against doctors and lawyers involved. Any lawyers promoted to the judiciary should be impeached, then disbarred. Prosecution of Bush, Cheney and others could have a terrible effect on this country. I’m not sure that it would be a healing thing, as badly as I would like to see them tried, convicted and imprisoned.

    Comment by Ralph | April 23, 2009

  5. Constructive suggestions, Michael. I will add a fourth: write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper calling for a new investigation of 9/11.

    According to the authors of The 9/11 Commission Report, two critical chapters of that document (#5 and #7) “rely heavily on information obtained from captured al Qaeda members.” What we’ve learned since is that the information in question was obtained by torture.

    What recently has become clear is that with regard to Iraq, torture was used by the Bush Administration for the purpose of obtaining false information. Was that also the purpose for torture when the captured al Qaeda members were questioned about 9/11?

    Comment by Berry Friesen | April 23, 2009

  6. Torture is morally indefensible, but then too so is murder (witness 911)…

    Comment by Paul | April 23, 2009

  7. Ralph, we tried the “healing” route with Watergate and the pardoning of Nixon. But what Republicans learned was that they should never again be bipartisan in holding anyone of their party accountable for anything. Dick Cheney got his start in the Ford administration and decided that Nixon was right: if the president does it (as long as the pres. is a Republican), it’s never a crime.

    If we don’t prosecute, this will happen again and worse. We also invite others to torture Americans.

    As to whether this will divide the nation, I’m not so sure. At the beginning of the year polls showed Americans wanting some kind of investigation, but divided between a commission of inquiry. Well, Republicans wouldn’t back a commission of inquiry. They blocked it. And, in the wake of the released torture memos, more and more Americans are demanding accountability–and Republicans may have painted themselves in a corner where trials are the only accountability available.

    When Ford pardoned Nixon enough had come out in Congress and in the press and trials of underlings that this was VERY unpopular even with people who voted twice for Nixon. Ford became the only sitting president to have to testify before Congress that there was no quid pro quo to get Nixon to resign. His pardon probably cost Ford the election.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 24, 2009

  8. Michael,

    Maybe you’ll get to addressing this soon, but what can we do to protest 17-year old girls getting the ‘morning after’ abortion pill without parent or doctor’s consent?

    Comment by Chuck | April 24, 2009

  9. “Anon, there is no one definition of torture.” right, which is why I don’t believe waterboarding to be torture. It all depends on one’s personal belief. You have your views I have mine. Nancy Pelosi has her views, Cheney has his views. I just don’t think we should impose our personal views of torture on those who have other definitions.

    Anyone want to discuss whether stabbing a late-term fetus in the head and sucking out her brains is torture. No–I didn’t think so.

    Comment by Jack | April 24, 2009

  10. If there is no definition of torture then how can you say that it is torture rather than just enhanced interrogation techniques.

    Comment by Jerry Schmidt | April 24, 2009

  11. Waterboarding is torture not because there is one definition of torture, Jack, but because it is spelled out as illegal in both international and domestic law. We prosecuted (court martialed) an American soldier for using what was then called “the water cure” during the Spanish-American war in 1898. We prosecuted and hung a Japanese soldier for waterboarding an American civilian after WWII. We courtmartialed and imprisoned an American soldier photographed helping South Vietnamese soldiers waterboard a North Vietnamese soldier in 1967. (There was no debate.)

    The LAW has been settled for over a century. The morality was too.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 24, 2009

  12. Jerry, because the laws which forbid torture forbid all “cruel, unusual, degrading, and inhumane treatment.” Both the law and the case histories show that this has been settled law until the Bush admin.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 24, 2009

  13. Chuck, if you want to put those up on your blog, go right ahead. I have time for only so much. My activism will be reserved for the moral debates I consider most pressing.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 24, 2009

  14. Michael

    Thanks for the information. I sent emails to the CIA, the ABA, and Rep. Conyers office. I have urged all to prosecute the attorneys who penned the bogus supoort for torture — after all we prosecuted for “water torture” following WWII. The political officials who wrote the policies need to be prosecuted as well. Those who carried out the torture need to be punished as well — although not at the level that the people higher up the chain. Keep up the good work — I’d love to help in this cause.


    Comment by Mike | May 12, 2009

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