Truth Commission on Torture

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 03:50 PM

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I was one of the few people in the country who campaigned for the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004, and then in 2008 campaigned for the Obama-Biden ticket.

I did not agree with President Bush on a single domestic issue, but endorsed and campaigned for him because of his strong stand in opposition to Islamic terrorism, which was not, in my opinion, matched by his Democratic opponent, John Kerry.

In 2008, I went to Florida and other states to campaign for the Obama-Biden ticket. I announced that I was supporting and campaigning for Barack Obama, having decided that he did understand, in my opinion, the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Furthermore, I agreed with Obama and the Democratic Party on every major domestic issue in the campaign, including national health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and achieving tax equity for the middle class.

On May 21, 2009, President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney gave important competing speeches regarding national security.

The United States has been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq ever since Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida blew up the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon with the collective loss in lives of more than 3,000 people.

During the Bush-Cheney administration, we also saw al-Qaida and its allies launch successful terrorist acts in other countries, such as Great Britain, Spain, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia and India.

However, in the last eight years, there have been no new attacks inside the United States. The Bush-Cheney administration engaged in counterterrorism acts which they defended as permissible under our Constitution, but which others describe as torture. These included waterboarding three terrorists to extract information.

There were other demeaning acts against terrorist prisoners, including humiliation, and were denounced by then-Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, and many civil libertarians including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

President Obama’s May 21st speech on national security made a number of points on a change in tactics which included the following:

“We know that al-Qaida is actively planning to attack us again. We know that this threat will be with us for a long time, and that we must use all elements of our power to defeat it. From Europe to the Pacific, we've been the nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law.

"I banned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States of America. As commander in chief, I see the intelligence. I bear the responsibility for keeping this country safe. And I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation.

"The second decision that I made was to order the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

"The third decision that I made was to order a review of all pending cases at Guantanamo. I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people.

"We must have fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight.

"I released memos issued by the previous administration's Office of Legal Counsel. The argument that somehow by releasing those memos we are providing terrorists with information about how they will be interrogated makes no sense. We will not be interrogating terrorists using that approach. That approach is now prohibited.

"There are nearly 200,000 Americans who are serving in harm's way, and I have a solemn responsibility for their safety as commander in chief. Nothing would be gained by the release of these photos that matters more than the lives of our young men and women serving in harm's way.

"Right now, in distant training camps and in crowded cities, there are people plotting to take American lives. That will be the case a year from now, five years from now, and -- in all probability -- 10 years from now.”

Obama’s speech was followed by a response from Dick Cheney. Particularly compelling are the following observations by Cheney:

“In top-secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program.

"The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work, proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people.

"Yet somehow, when the soul-searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth.

"The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question. Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release.”

Everyone ought to read both speeches in full. You can find transcripts of President Obama’s speech at: www.nytimes.com/2009/05/021/us/politics/21obama.text.html. Former Vice President Cheney’s speech can be read at www.washingtonpost.com.

David Brooks’ May 21, 2009, column in The New York Times points out that the period of enhanced interrogation lasted “maybe three years” and that by 2005, there were efforts “to rein in the excesses of the Bush-Cheney period.”

Nevertheless, we don’t know when the enhanced interrogations by our own security people or those of our allies fully ended, or what information was extracted that Cheney alleges saved thousands of lives.

I believe the President and the Congress should appoint a Truth Commission –- no present government members to serve -- to get the facts for the American people. They then can determine who is correct on the issue of enhanced interrogation to locate the ticking bomb, and which members of Congress knew about such acts without protesting them.

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