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DON'T BE VAGUE - SEND 'EM TO THE HAGUE

21-04-2009

President Obama

President Obama has lifted the veil on his predecessor's legitimisation of torture - and while critics say he hasn't gone far enough, David Nicholl argues that this is only the start.

The decision last week by President Obama to release the memos authorising the use of specific torture techniques by the Bush regime is truly historic. This is the first time we have written evidence of a US President who has legitimised torture.

Just think of that for one moment. Techniques that were used by the Spanish Inquisition but ended with the Enlightment as they were felt to be barbaric, were legalised secretly in the 21st century by the leader of the Free World. That is quite some Presidential epitaph, Dubya.

Bush was criticised over the Iraq war and the abuse of intelligence to suggest that Saddaam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but this is quite a different league of immorality. We now know that not only was Bush the President with the worst approval ratings in history but that he lied in 2005 when he stated “we do not torture”.

So why is Obama not sending them all off to the Hague?

Amnesty and other human rights groups have criticised Obama’s reluctance to charge CIA agents who used torture. The response of these human rights groups is not surprising but I would argue Obama’s decision was a remarkably astute political move.

Obama has been in office less than 100 days and as a first term President wants to ensure that he puts as much distance as soon as possible with previous regime. However he is not stupid and an announcement that he would be announcing an immediate investigation into the interrogators would be a risky political move.

Quite simply, the right wing in the US are itching for Obama to put a foot wrong, and the announcement of such an investigation would be political suicide to his Presidency faster than you could say ‘Monica Lewinsky’.

Just the release of these torture memos is the very first step in the prosecution of those responsible - the lawyers who wrote the memos, the psychologists who designed the techniques and the doctors who supervised the torture and waterboarding sessions. It is time to ‘out’ these professionals, have them removed from any professional bodies and thus put them, quite literally, out of business. If this sounds like the modern day equivalent of doing Al Capone for tax evasion, then so be it.

It took 8 years for the 2 doctors involved in the cover up of the death through torture of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko to be disciplined - yet the scale of the crime here is much bigger - that the US President authorised torture techniques in a chain of prisons across the globe through the illegal detention of thousands of individuals without any form of accountability.

Like the Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, none of the culprits will be able to travel outside of the US for fear of arrest.

Thus the release of these memos was a vital first step in a very long journey which will take years for the truth to unravel. Obama is to be congratulated in releasing the memos, but also for not delivering Bush/Cheney and their cronies any ammunition.

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