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Friday, February 19, 2010

There Aren't Different Versions Of The Truth

Feb 19th, 2010
by F. Grey Parker

On Friday November 12th 1948, General Kenji Doihara, Baron Kōki Hirota, General Seishirō Itagaki, General Heitarō Kimura, General Iwane Matsui, General Akira Muto, General Hideki Tōjō were sentenced to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Primary amongst the actions for which they had been convicted were the torturous methods with which they interrogated prisoners. One of the principle tools was called the "water cure" otherwise known as waterboarding.

This past Sunday we were treated to former Vice President Dick Cheney making the declaration that he was a "big fan of waterboarding" on national television. As a consistent opponent of capital punishment, I am unable to endorse the most extreme penalty for him. But he is a war criminal. And he is very, very proud of it. As has been the case with craven men in power throughout the ages, he is utterly convinced of his righteousness. His glibness begs the re-visitation of facts that once defined ours as an honorable nation.

To be sure, there were many other tools they used on Allied troops and captured civilians. They employed severe sleep deprivation which was also a favorite of the Gestapo. Use of loud noises and sensory overload were common. Both the Japanese and Nazis were about as fond of intimidation by dog as the previous administration's hawks.

The term "war crimes" is thrown about somewhat loosely in today's climate. Which is stunning considering how simply defined it is. To make clear what the discussion is actually about, it's worth a re-reading of Article II of the Principles of Nuremburg. They state as follows: "The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law." For sixty years, this has been one of the fundamentals of our interaction with the world. It was a value that both gave great weight to our moral arguments with other nations while having the practical effect of making our captured safer than they otherwise would have been. It said to the world that we do not do these things and we also do not forgive them no matter how much time might pass.

As a signatory of the Geneva Convention, the United States is obliged to behave within all of it's confines. There is no "unlawful enemy combatant" back door to torture such as was defined in the now infamous William Haynes memo. It's just the opposite.

Article 3 of the 3rd Geneva Convention makes plain that what our government has done is criminal. Amongst the behaviors that "are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever" are "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." Even if one holds with the NeoCons that "waterboarding is not torture," it still falls outside the permissible.

There will eventually have to be a reckoning for what we have allowed our leaders to do in our names. There is a reason Cheney is so defiant in his defense of these policies. He knows he will one day be convicted of high crimes. But if he can continue to maintain the current climate of fear and dubious legal maneuvering, he can be fairly certain the judgement will be posthumous. What should anger every American more is that he thinks any human being should be treated with the techniques that once only our enemies would have used.

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