This week a New York Times editorial called for prosecuting U.S. government torturers, both those who carried out the dirty work and those who authorized it. Oddly, or should we say shamefully, the Times itself stopped using the word “torture” for a long period when the Bush II administration insisted it wasn’t torture at all… it was “enhanced interrogation techniques”. But now the Times is back to calling torture “torture” and mentions Vice President Dick Cheney as a worthy target for prosecution. No mention of presumed boss, George W. Bush.
Well, it’s a step in the right direction.
There will always be claims that “our” torture is different from other nations’ torture… or even that “our” torture was entirely justified (see Dick Cheney). Inevitably, some will assert that “our” exceptional, freedom-loving country — being innocent and virtuous, and suffering a terrible attack on 9/11, and then fearing even further attacks — must be forgiven for our secret regime of torture in various neo-medieval hellholes around the globe.
But there’s a problem. When we adopted the international convention against torture (See Ronald Reagan 1984. See Congress 1994.), all the predictable special pleadings were waved away, repudiated in advance. Article 2.2:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
As the Times editorial said, the acts “are, simply, crimes.”
There were many, many felonies that could be prosecuted. As we all know, in many realms, those responsible for crimes are, in fact, prosecuted.
Will it happen? A bookie, or a cynic, or any reasonable grownup would not bet on it. No one who lied us into war was prosecuted. No one was prosecuted for leading us into a financial fiasco. When perpetrators are sufficiently rich and/or powerful, they can redefine words such as torture, and they can float along, above the “rule of law”, a phrase we still hear but which increasingly generates only dark amusement.