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Sat

07

Feb

2009

Panetta: Just Following Orders Defense Okay
Saturday, 07 February 2009 11:40
by Stephen P. Pizzo

"This above all: to thine own self be true..."
- Shakespeare, we have a problem.

The problem is that at least two of the West's most fabled democracies, the US and Great Britain, have utterly lost their ability to be true to themselves, about themselves and about the crimes they committed together in recent years.

Let's start with this Associated Press story today:

UK: Releasing Guantanamo documents hurts security

LONDON (AP) — Disclosing confidential U.S. intelligence documents about a former British resident held at Guantanamo Bay would hurt Britain's national security and its relations with allies, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Thursday....Miliband told lawmakers that a court had been right to block the release of documents about the treatment of detainee Binyam Mohamed....He said making the information public against U.S. wishes would "cause real and significant damage to the national security and international relations of this country."

Mohamed, 31, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and claims he was tortured there and elsewhere. Charges against him have now been dropped, and British officials expect him to be released from Guantanamo soon.

The real reason the documents were not released, of course, had nothing whatsoever to do with the security of either country. The real reason is the documents document crimes – domestic and international crimes – committed by both countries.

First Britain shipped this poor guy to Morocco along with a list of questions British intelligence wanted the Moroccans to get answers to any way they chose. Then he was hauled off to Gitmo for the US version of Moroccan hospitality. All of which is documented in the documents the British court (and US authorities) refused to release.

FascismIt's all about the growing disconnect between the stated values the West believes it personifies, and its own recent behavior. It's the very same kind of behavior the West is quick to condemn when it occurs in countries we don't like. But the West now seems able to rationalized that same behavior as justified when conducted under the rubric of "national security." When we do it, the reasoning goes, we are doing it in furtherance of higher goals -- Godly goals even.

(Or, as Barry Goldwater might put it if her were around today, "Torture in the pursuit of freedom is no vice.”)

But, even as they claim these kind of activities are legal when we do them, they are embarrassing as hell, apparently. Because neither the US or GB wants anyone to know precisely what they did in the name of "protecting and upholding" western interests and values.

And now they've even corrupted system of Western justice itself in the pursuit of keeping a lid on it all. From the US Dept of Justice to the courts, justice is not being done. Not even close.

The election of Barack Obama held out hope that this cynical, dishonest and felonious trend would be reversed. It now looks like it will not exactly reverse. I suspect some of the worst behavior will either end or moderate. There will be less torture, less detention and more legal rights.


But what there apparently will not be is more openness and a return to the key premise that what set Western democracies aside from tyrannies is that no one is above the law. Incriminating government documents will continue being withheld from public or court review. And investigations into alleged illegalities committed by the last US administration will go uninvestigated, at least if the past and current administrations or Congress have any say in the matter.

If you doubt that, you need only to have listened to the confirmation hearings for Obama's CIA director, Leon Panetta:

CIA nominee Panetta: 'We've got to move forward'

WASHINGTON (AP) — The man nominated to head the CIA, Leon Panetta, says it's time for the agency to move ahead, not to dwell on the harsh treatment of foreign detainees in the previous administration....Panetta is appearing in his second day before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He told senators Friday that he doesn't intend to "to go to the past."

Panetta will oversee the end of "enhanced" interrogation and the closure of secret CIA jails. But he says the Obama administration will not prosecute those who participated, because they were acting on the legal authority of the Justice Department...Panetta says those who were following the legal opinions provided by the Justice Department at that time shouldn't be investigated or prosecuted.

Let me put that in terms those of us of a certain age will find familiar: “Give them a break. They were only following orders.”

Yes, 65 years after we hung Germans for carrying out crimes under orders, we have now decided that “just following orders,” should in fact have been a legitimate defense after all.

So, let me get this straight; we are not going to prosecute the guys who issued the orders, and we are not going to prosecute the guys who carried out those orders. I see.

It seems now that the Obama administration going to accept the Bush administration's well-planned alibi. There was a reason they put Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo at DOJ. They were both yes men of long repute. They were told to provide the mother of all CYA legal opinions giving Bush administration officials and those at the CIA and DOD legal cover for their illegal activities.

“Hey, we had lawyer letters saying it was okay,” is what those who issued the orders to torture and detain now claim. Those orders were issued and now the Obama administration says that, since those who actually conducted torture, kidnappings and the such, should not be prosecuted because “they were just following orders.”

(Kafka, eat your heart out baby. You lacked imagination compared to these guys.)

Finally we got another dose of “when we do it, it's not wrong,” from Dick Cheney this week. No longer in power, and no longer privileged to daily intelligence reports, Cheney nevertheless wanted us to know that he knows something we don't know:

Cheney Predicts ‘Probability’ of Attack

WASHINGTON — In an interview two weeks after leaving office, former Vice President Dick Cheney predicted a “high probability” of a nuclear or biological attack in the next few years and said the Obama administration was approaching a “tough, mean, dirty, nasty business” of keeping the country safe from terrorists too timidly. (Full Story)

So, boys and girls in civics class, lets review the new set of “Western values:”
  1. When countries like Venezuela, Rwanda, Iran, Cuba and others we don't like, flaunt international laws, it's wrong and their leaders need to be exposed, deposed and prosecuted. But when the US or Britain do many of the same kind of things, we are doing them for such a high purpose it's not wrong. In fact, in some cases it merits a medal.
  2. Even though it's enshrined in the code of military justice that a soldier is not only allowed to refuse an illegal order, but required refuse, and liable for prosecution if he/she follows that order. But there's now a footnote that allows them follow illegal orders if it's done in the name of “national security."
  3. The concept that “justice is blind,” used to mean that, only truth, not position or status, mattered in a court of law. It now means justice can turn a blind eye to official law breaking, as long as the accused claim their crimes were committed in the pursuit of “national security.”
  4. Those who claim the facts prove their innocence, are now allowed to keep those facts secret and therefore impossible to confirm or refute. (Another shout out here to Franz Kafka.. hey dude.)
Too cynical, you think? Well, since I can't get my hands on those documents either, I can only go by what I read in the paper. And so far it's not looking good for those of us who still believe all that gushy stuff we learned about the Magna Carta and the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and Habeas Corpus and the Rule of Law in civics class.

And it's going to continue getting worse, not better, until the US and GB follow Shakespeare's sage advice.

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

(See also, The Bush Project)
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