How to Put the Torturers in Prison

By David Swanson

U.S. politics has become something previously only found in science fiction, an intersection of parallel universes. One universe is the one on television and in Congress. In this universe there are suspicions that someone in the U.S. military may have used some technique bordering on torture, but there’s just no way to know for sure. Perhaps an investigation would be a good idea. Or maybe a better solution would be to elect a new president, especially one who’s been a victim of torture and opposes it. But the whole topic is very minor one, and the correct position is unclear since torture is both frowned on and useful for getting tough on terrorists.

In the other universe, John McCain has been supporting torture for years now, but virtually every informed observer recognizes that torture serves no practical purpose and is dragging world opinion of the United States into the gutter, making us less safe. In this other world, we encounter information like that collected in a new book by Michael Ratner called “The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld.” We discover that there is voluminous evidence in the form of photographs and first-hand testimony that our nation has been engaged in using a wide array of the most abusive torture techniques possible for years now, resulting in many known cases of murder — of the torture resulting in death.

In this other world, sometimes known as reality, there is extensive documentary evidence that torture has been authorized by many top U.S. officials, including George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Stephen Cambone, Ricardo Sanchez, Geoffrey Miller, Walter Wojdakowski, Thomas Pappas, Barbara Fast, Marc Warren, Alberto Gonzales, William James Haynes II, David Addington, John C. Yoo, and Jay Bybee. There are other names that could be added, but those are the individuals indicted in Ratner’s book. Ratner actually leaves out Bush and Cheney, but says he is only doing so because they are still in office.

Ratner presents the evidence against these torturers, and then presents substantial evidence in their defense in the form of memos they’ve written trying to argue that what is blatantly illegal is legal. Then Ratner debunks their claims. His book does for torture what Elizabeth de la Vega’s book (“U.S. v. Bush et alia”) did for defrauding a nation into war: it lays out the case to a grand jury, or to a jury. There is sufficient evidence in this book to put these people behind bars. There is sufficient material here to understand how these criminals would defend themselves in court as well. And all of this exists in a world apart from Congress and television.

I’m not arguing for actual conviction by book. While we can guess how people might defend themselves, they must be given a fair chance to actually do so before being convicted. But every book like this that emerges should help us break through the erroneous idea that we need to investigate before we can conclude that torture has been committed, that it is illegal, and that the individuals named above bear legal responsibility for it.

In the parallel universe inhabited by Congress, the furthest reaches of advocacy for justice are inhabited by things like the resolution Rep. Tammy Baldwin introduced on Friday ( ), urging the next president to please stop committing some of the unconstitutional and illegal abuses of the current one, but at the same time urging the next president to investigate whether the current one or any of his subordinates committed any crimes. This eternal demand for investigations (even while acknowledging the crimes) is much like the demand of other politicians for additional proof before they’ll believe global warming exists. Both pretenses are motivated by corrupting influences. To admit that no investigations are needed of torture and war crimes would be to admit that Congress could very quickly impeach the president if it chose to. Baldwin is one of a small minority of Congress members who have supported impeachment. She announced her new resolution on a Friday night during a presidential debate when almost nobody would notice and focused it entirely on appealing to the executive branch not to misuse its dictatorial powers, as opposed to stripping those powers away and restoring Congress to its proper place in our government. And 434 other Congress members did even less than that.

Books can’t cross from one universe to another. Nobody could pretend further investigations were needed if they held a copy of Ratner’s book. Ratner lays out the case on torture, including the evidence, the counter-arguments, and their refutations, exactly as if we were all living in the real world. Prosecution is possible abroad, but courts abroad will be heavily influenced by the amount of public pressure we can create for prosecution within the United States. Strategies for prosecution within the United States and abroad are being organized: The trick will be to properly merge this movement with the universe of the media-congressional-military complex.

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