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May 2012, Week 4

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Fri, 25 May 2012 22:19:03 -0400
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Memorial for America's Conscience

     On this holiday, Americans should confront a grim
     fact about our country: We are torturers

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
May 24, 2012
http://www.salon.com/2012/05/24/memorial_for_americas_conscience/

Facing the truth is hard to do, especially the truth
about ourselves. So Americans have been sorely pressed
to come to terms with the fact that after 9/11 our
government began to torture people, and did so in
defiance of domestic and international law. Most of us
haven't come to terms with what that meant, or means
today, but we must reckon with torture, the torture done
in our name, allegedly for our safety.

It's no secret such cruelty occurred; it's just the
truth we'd rather not think about. But Memorial Day is a
good time to make the effort. Because if we really want
to honor the Americans in uniform who gave their lives
fighting for their country, we'll redouble our efforts
to make sure we're worthy of their sacrifice; we'll
renew our commitment to the rule of law, for the rule of
law is essential to any civilization worth dying for.

After 9/11, our government turned to torture, seeking
information about the terrorists who committed the
atrocity and others who might follow after them. Senior
officials ordered the torture of men at military bases
and detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, in
secret CIA prisons set up across the globe, and in other
countries -- including Libya and Egypt -- where abusive
regimes were asked to do Washington's dirty work.

The best known of all the prisons remains Guantanamo on
the southeast coast of Cuba. For years, the United
States naval base there seemed like an isolated vestige
of the Cold War -- defying the occasional threat from
Fidel Castro to shut it down. But since 9/11, Guantanamo
-- Gitmo -- has been a detention center, an
extraterritorial island jail considered outside the
jurisdiction of US civilian courts and rules of
evidence. Like the notorious Room 101 of George Orwell's
"1984," the chamber that contains the thing each victim
fears the most to make them confess, Guantanamo's name
has become synonymous with torture. Nearly 800 people
have been held there. George W. Bush eventually released
500 of them, sometimes after years of confinement and
cruelty. Barack Obama has freed 67, but 169 remain, even
though the president pledged to close the Guantanamo
prison within a year of his inauguration. Now, forty-
six are so dangerous, our government says, they will be
held indefinitely, without trial.

We almost never see the detainees. Were it not for the
work of human rights organizations and the forest of
lawsuits that have arisen from our actions, the
prisoners would be out of sight, out of mind. Five of
the Guantanamo prisoners were recently arraigned before
a military commission for their role in the attacks. One
of them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who says he was the
mastermind behind 9/11. He was waterboarded by
interrogators 183 times. Pentagon officials predict it
will be at least another year before the five go on
trial.

Earlier this month, lawyers for Mohammed al-Qahtani --
the so-called "20th hijacker" who didn't make it onto
the planes -- filed suit in New York federal court to
make public what they described as "extremely
disturbing" videotapes of his interrogations.  He was
charged in 2008 with war crimes and murder but the
charges were dropped after the former convening
authority for the Guantanamo military commissions, Susan
Crawford, told journalist Bob Woodward that al-Qahtani's
treatment "met the legal definition of torture."

He remains in indefinite detention, as does Abu
Zubaydah, a Saudi citizen alleged to have run terrorist
training camps. He was waterboarded at least 83 times in
a single month.  Just this week a federal appeals court
refused to release information on the interrogation
methods the CIA used on Abu Zubaydah and other terrorist
suspects.

You may also have seen the flurry of action this month
around a section of the new National Defense
Authorization Act that allows the military to detain
indefinitely not only members of al Qaeda, the Taliban
and "associated forces" but anyone who has
"substantially supported" them.  A federal court struck
down that provision in response to journalists and
advocates who believe it could be so broadly interpreted
it would violate civil liberties.  Nonetheless, two days
after the court's decision, the House of Representatives
reaffirmed the original provision.

The other day, eight members of the Bush Administration
-- including President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld -- were found guilty of
torture and other war crimes by an unofficial tribunal
meeting in Malaysia.  The story was played widely in
parts of the world press, with reports that the judgment
could lead the way to proceedings before the
International Criminal Court in The Hague. It received
almost no mention here in the United States.

This summer, it's believed that the United States
Senate's intelligence committee finally will release a
report on "enhanced interrogation techniques," that
euphemistic phrase for what any reasonable person not
employed by the government would call torture. The
report has been three years in the making, with
investigators examining millions of classified
documents. The news service Reuters says the report will
conclude that techniques such as waterboarding and sleep
deprivation do not yield worthwhile intelligence
information.

So here we are, into our eleventh year after 9/11, still
at war in Afghanistan, still at war with terrorists,
still at war with our collective conscience as we
grapple with how to protect our country from attack
without violating the basic values of civilization --
the rule of law, striving to achieve our aims without
corrupting them, and restraint in the use of power over
others, especially when exercised in secret.

In future days and years, how will we come to cope with
the reality of what we have done in the name of
security? Many other societies do seem to try harder
than we do to come to terms with horrendous behavior
commissioned or condoned by a government. Beginning in
1996, in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission held hearings at which whites and blacks
struggled to confront the cruelty inflicted on human
beings during apartheid.

And perhaps you caught something said the other day by
the president of Brazil, Dilma Roussef. During the
early seventies she was held in prison and tortured
repeatedly by the military dictators who ruled her
country for nearly 25 years. The state of Rio de Janeiro
has announced it will officially apologize to her.
Earlier, when she swore in members of a commission
investigating the dictatorship, President Roussef said:
"We are not moved by revenge, hate or a desire to
rewrite history. The need to know the full truth is what
moves us."

In other words, "You shall know the truth and the truth
shall make you free."

Bill Moyers is managing editor of the new weekly public
affairs program, "Moyers & Company," airing on public
television. Check local airtimes or comment at
www.BillMoyers.com.

Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos and a
senior writer of the new series, Moyers & Company,
airing on public television.

___________________________________________

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