a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

A nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice

Posted by Thomas Nephew on May 18th, 2009

What we once aspired to.

From “Judgment at Nuremberg“:

…the charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations. The Tribunal has carefully studied the record and found therein abundant evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against these defendants.”

I’m put in mind of this again today, after reading the Editors’ succinct summary of the Bush-Obama era verdict (so far) on torture:

We’ve got what amounts to a reverse Nuremberg defense, where Bush administration officials are let off the hook because they were only giving orders. I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.

Perhaps the single most important property of a “right” is that you can’t let anyone — anyone — pretend to be able to choose who gets it and who does not. Or it isn’t a right. Yes, at least some of the people who were waterboarded (or abused and tortured in other ways) were in all likelihood people who’d committed crimes and had information. But many were not, and knew nothing.  You can’t tell which is which just by their looks or where “on the battlefield” you happened to pick them up.  The rights we accord to the worst of us and the rest of us protect all of us — or should: it’s happened here, too, not “just” at Guantanamo or Bagram or some conveniently invisible site in Eastern Ruthenia or Godforsakistan.

The words (written by Abby Mann) from the verdict in “Judgment at Nuremberg” remain uncannily apt:

“…this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary — even able and extraordinary — men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. […]

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

But we won\'tIt is therefore deeply regrettable to me that a President I worked to elect would stand in the way of revealing even a single fact about the misdeeds of the United States government, let alone stand in the way of an organized fact finding commission and eventual prosecution of the wrongdoers.

This really is not complicated. Laws were broken. Morality so basic even laboratory rats demonstrate it was broken. That those responsible were government officials, soldiers, and others who claim to “keep us safe” — but do the opposite, as their own unending bleats for secrecy reveal — is a reason for urgency in investigating and punishing the wrong-doers, not delay. That such action may prove controversial should be a point of pride to those in the right, not a source of concern or even a moment’s lost sleep.

Obama is the chief law enforcement official of the United States.

He has a duty.

He should do it.

I regret to say that I do not believe that he will. He must therefore be prodded, provoked, and opposed until and unless he does.

3 Responses to “A nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice”

  1. Nell Says:

    Barack Obama, through his failure to lead on the detention issue and his refusal to speak the plain truth that more of the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo are innocent than not, is responsible for the sorry spectacle of this week.

    Politicians for whom I still held a shred of respect — I’m glaring at you, Jim Webb –are competing with lying Saxby Chambliss and Jim Inhofe (R-Bizarro World) to see who can be more pants-wetting about the prospect of the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to U.S. prisons. The idea of accepting prisoners innocent of any threat to us, men who were cleared for release years ago by the Bush regime, is apparently inconceivable.

    A comment of mine at Obsidian Wings from three months ago predicted this mess, and I haven’t changed my mind about who’s responsible:

    :: Obama has not only expended no effort or political capital in getting out ahead of this kind of fear and ignorance, but has actively fed into it.

    The interview with Matt Lauer just before the Super Bowl was his first sit-down on U.S. television since the inauguration; it had, intentionally, an enormous audience. There is no way, then, to paint this from Obama as anything but a deliberate effort to feed the paranoia that has made release of the Uighurs into the U.S. difficult. Remember as you read that there are only about 250 prisoners total at Guantanamo: “we’ve got a couple of hundred [!!} of hardcore militants [!!] that, unfortunately, because of some problems that we had [!!] previously in gathering evidence, we may not be able to try in ordinary courts –- but we don’t want to release [!!].”

    He said something to one of the biggest TV audiences of the year that could have been said by Dick Cheney with a one-word change (‘terrorist’ for ‘militant’). ::

    He’s keeping us in the same degraded swamp as his predecessor, and I hope he rots in the same hell.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Here’s a link to the transcript at the “American Presidency Project” at UCSB — 48 – Interview With Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today”. So far, it’s quite hard to find at MSNBC — this “ » Blog Archive » About those photos — Part II Says:

    […] canard in his Super Bowl interview with Matt Lauer, as Nell Lancaster pointed out in a recent comment here and at the time in an “Obsidian Wings” comment thread.  Not to mention […]

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