“Self-purification through suffering is easier, I tell you: easier — than that destiny which you are paving for many of them by wholesale acquittals in court. You are merely planting cynicism in their souls.” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The United States Congress is outraged. Russia, it seems, may have wrongly imprisoned, tortured, and murdered a whistleblower. In the land of the free, our good representatives are outraged, I tell you. And not just I. NPR will tell you. This calls for action. There’s a bill in the Senate and a bill in the House. The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.
Who wouldn’t support the rule of law and accountability?
Well, let me think.
Oh, I know. The United States Congress.
Bush and Cheney are selling books confessing to the crime of war and all that comes with it, including lawless imprisonment and torture. They have openly confessed in their books and on television, repeatedly, to a form of torture that the current Attorney General of the United States admits is torture. Bush’s torture program tortured numerous people to death. And what has Congress wrought?
No enforcement of subpoenas.
No defunding of operations.
No criminalizing of secrecy.
No protection of whistleblowers.
No mandating of diplomacy, reparations, foreign aid, or commitments to international standards.
In other words, we have no Congress with the right to talk about the Rule of Law or Accountability without being mocked.
But keep hope alive.
Change is on the way.
Up in the sky!
It’s Captain Peace Prize!
Obama launches wars without bothering to lie to Congress or the United Nations, has formalized the powers of lawless imprisonment, rendition, and murder, and places the protection of Bush and Cheney above almost anything else — certainly above the rule of law or accountability.
Obama has badgered Spain, Italy, Germany, and the U.K. to leave the Bush gang in peace, publicly instructed the U.S. Department of Justice not to prosecute, and expanded claims of “State Secrets” beyond anything previously imagined in order to shut down legal accountability. Italy has convicted CIA agents in absentia, and Obama has not shipped them over to do their time. Poland is prosecuting its bit players in U.S. crimes. Former top British official Jack Straw is being hauled into court for his tangential role. But Obama has chosen a path to success in Washington, or thinks he has, and that path is immunity for anyone with power.
The trouble is that Obama now wants to apply that same standard to Russia, and Congress won’t stand for it. Obama is opposed to the Hold Russia Accountable Act because he prefers to kiss up to the government of Russia. It’s a policy that has worked beautifully for him at home. Why not apply it abroad?
Of course, the United States has no moral standing to speak against imprisonment, torture, or murder. The United States imprisons more of its people than any other country, keeps hundreds of thousands of them in supermaxes or long-term isolation, tolerates prison rape and violence, openly treats torture as a policy option, facilitates torture in what may be the two countries torturing the greatest number of people today: Iraq and Afghanistan, and kills with capital punishment, special forces, and drones.
The United States has no moral standing to speak against the punishment of whistleblowers, Obama having prosecuted seven of them under the Espionage Act of 1917, fittingly enough for the offense of having made U.S. war-making look bad by revealing facts about it.
But the answer cannot be to support Russian crimes just because there are U.S. crimes. Congress, revolting as it is to say, is right: the Russian government should be held to a decent rule of law. And it should be held to it through the language that speaks louder than words: action. U.S. immunity for torturers is one of the greatest factors in the current spread of acceptability for torture around the world.
Congress should impeach Bush and Obama, enforce its subpoenas, ship convicted CIA criminals to Italy, strengthen the War Powers Act, criminalize war profiteering, ban private mercenaries, ban unconstitutional detentions, ban secret budgets and laws and agencies, ban rendition, and ratify and enforce the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Congress should also cease encircling Russia with missiles, and end its wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.
Or, short of moving in a useful direction, sad to say, the best thing the United States Congress could do for the rule of law in Russia at the moment would be to shut the hell up.