Though the president’s decision to expose but not prosecute those responsible for torture is surely unsatisfying, it is the best solution for right now.
Editors’ Selections NYTimes aim to highlight the most interesting and thoughtful comments that represent a range of views:
I have to say that I’m rather disappointed in this latest column by Friedman. While the point that moving forward on a prosecution would ultimately lead to targeting the highest members of the Bush administration and provide irreparable damage to our country’s internal stability is quite valid, he loses me is in his attempts to extend an olive branch to the judgment of the previous administration in their handling of so-called “enhanced interrogation.”
Pointing out that Al Qaeda is a legitimate threat that poses unique challenges to our national security is a disingenuous attempt at moderation that seems to deliberately hide from what’s really outrageous about the situation at hand. That the Bush administration approved torture is minutia when one examines the laws that were broken and the responsibility that was shirked in doing so. Whether or not torture should be allowed is a legitimate debate, however there is no debating that the Bush administration came down on the riskiest side of the debate but boorishly declined to understand implicit complexity of their own decision. Furthermore when this incompetence was exposed, the administration attempted to save itself from leadership initiative by underhanded tactics such as passing the buck to our soldiers.
I usually applaud Friedman’s moderate and practical stance on most issues, however much of his attempt at moderation in this piece is mostly accomplished by addressing minutia rather than the larger issue. That Obama made the correct decision in withholding prosecution is a legitimate position, however extending an olive branch to the Bush administration’s conduct in light of the unique military challenges with which we’re faced is not. Let’s be honest, the real issue behind this hypothetical prosecution isn’t a debate about interrogation tactics; it’s a commitment to punish criminal negligence in an overinflated executive branch that repeatedly backed risky decisions by falling terribly short on providing the leadership needed to execute them properly.
— SH, Troy NY
You ought to review article 2.2 of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, to which the U.S. became a State Party in 1998 under Ronald Reagan. It’s quite clear on this point:
“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.”
The circumstances most certainly include the political fallout that would be engendered by the prosecution of senior members of the Bush administration for torture. And while you claim that bringing Rumsfeld and Bush to trial “would rip our country apart,” I’d argue that they already *have* ripped our country apart. Not just our country, either, but the Constitution, the rule of law, and our moral standing in the world.
Essentially, your argument is that Bushy, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Bybee, Yoo, etc. are “too big to fail”. If some average Joe imprisoned somebody in his basement, chained them from the ceiling, kept them awake for 11 days straight, and waterboarded them 183 times you would doubtless be shocked and outraged and wouldn’t question for a moment the need for prosecution. Mr. Friedman, with all due respect, do you really think that the laws in this country ought only to apply to ordinary citizens, and not politicians?
History will not treat us kindly if we choose to look the other way for the sake of political expediency.
— Jacob Park, San Francisco
Isn’t about time we retired the hoary argument that Al Qaeda is an exceptionally ruthless movement that cannot be controlled except by using the most brutal of methods? Haven’t there been religious fanatics and martyrs throughout human history? And Israel, of course, has been dealing with suicide bombers for decades. Have their agressive methods of addressing that threat really worked?
Governments and their apologists always claim in time of war that the opponent is uniquely evil and is capable of wreaking havoc unlike any the world has ever known. Why do we keep falling for this tired propaganda? The laws against torture and abuse of prisoners were not put in place to stop crimes against people we like, but to stop interrogators from misusing their power to harm people we despise. Physical and mental abuse is both counterproductive and damaging to victim and torturer alike. The question is not how much we hate and fear someone, the question is what the right and effective thing to do is when we have someone in custody we believe to be dangerous. Do we give ourselves permission to commit crimes we claim to abhor when they are perpetrated by others?
At best, officials of the last administration can claim temporary insanity in defense of their decision to torture prisoners. But there is nothing temporary about that insanity–they are still openly proclaiming their defiance of the law. Or has Dick Cheney apologized recently and I just didn’t hear about it?
And that is where the real problem comes in: the Bush administration violated both domestic and international laws before the eyes of the world, not once in a moment of carelessness, but as part of a systematic and deliberate strategy that could easily be reactivated the next time the U.S. feels “threatened.”
What is Barack Obama, who has sworn to uphold the laws of the United States, going to do to make sure that doesn’t happen?
— Miriam Hils, Berlin, Germany
A “unique enemy?” The US never officially embraced torture when it fought the Nazis. Give me a break. There is no excuse for what we did during the Bush administration. It makes me ashamed.
— rkreier, Port Jefferson, NY
Unconvincing. We wonder how Germany managed to rise to a major global economic power and a vibrant democracy after being “torn apart” by the Nuremburg trials.
Take note: Those who argued against the pursuit Nazi war criminals such as Eichmann and Barbie used arguments not unlike Mr. Friedman’s; i.e., it would be better to move on, and of course the classic, You have to understand how things WERE back then!
— MarkWoldin, Navarra, Spain
You might also wish to check out The Detainee Project, which has portraits of some of the thousands of innocent Iraqis who were detained, tortured, and then released without charge (http://www.detaineeproject.org).
Would you dare tell them to their faces that the crimes they suffered should not be investigated because to do so would be politically inconvenient?
The torture went *far* beyond the small number of prisoners at Guantanamo whom we’re told were confirmed terrorists. (Claims that any thinking person would take with a whole mountain of salt.)
— Jacob Park, San Francisco
It’s very disturbing to read an article like Friedman’s in a widely respected newspaper like the New York Times promoting torture and describing America’s right to torture and kill as its leaders see fit lifted out of Orwell’s Animal Farm .And this is what is supposed to be the leader of the free world?! As a Saudi woman with many hurdles ahead before we as Saudi women are treated fairly, found our part of the world far more humane than Thomas Friedman’s world.
— fadia basrawi, beirut, lebanon
As a veteran I feel this is an embarrassing time for the United States. By condoning torture we have become worse than them. By playing semantics with definitions of “prisoners of conflicts” we undermined any civility we have as a nation of laws and threatened the citizen soldiers/servants we ask to defend and protect us. Investigate,Prosecute, you bet.
Throw them in jail, no.
Confiscate all their blood money,retirements and make them greeters at Wal-marts for a little humility. Oh, that might be a little too demeaning.
— Dale R., Macomb, Mich.
Mr Friedman, I agree that prosecutions would tear the country apart and I wouldn’t look forward to them. I also agree that al-Qaeda is a unique enemy, though certainly not invincible. And suicide strikes are nothing new. The Viet Cong used them. They didn’t use car bombs, but the attacks they staged during the Tet Offensive were suicidal, for all intents and purposes. And what about the kamikaze pilots in WW II? Today’s suicide pilots and bombers haven’t broken as much new ground as people tell themselves.
But that was the mindset in the first days and weeks after 9/11. “This is a whole new ball-game!” a friend of mine insisted. But that was a bad analogy, as ball-games have many rules, and the “new” ball-game being proposed on the country’s behalf had none. President Bush was in a hurry to wrap up the war on terrorism on HIS “watch”, and his hurry-up offense, paying no mind to the rules, stalled at mid-field.
I don’t want to see prosecutions, but the people calling for them are not to be faulted for supporting high ideals. They apparently believe that the rules apply under all circumstances, and perhaps especially in the extremes. I’m reminded of some relevant lines from the film “Citizen Cohn”, from a scene in which father and son wrangle over the ideal of abiding by principles and doing “what is right.”
The son responds: “What’s ‘right’ changes every five minutes in this town.”
And the father answers: “What is right NEVER changes.”
— Basil Marasco, Jr., Rochester, NY
Humbug and chazerei. All this dancing around one simple notion: The President (or ex-President) is above the law, because treating him as a responsible citizen would “tear the country apart.” And therefore the VP, Atty-Gen, Bybee, Yoo, are also above the law. Glad we got that clear: Now we can burn the Declaration of Independence and apologize to george II.
What’s more, we can rip out of Good Friday “looking backward” to remember the torture of Jesus by the Roman Empire, and rip out of Yom Kippur the memory of ten great rabbis tortured to death by the Roman Empire. After all, that’s what Empires do, and charging the Emperor with crimes would tear the Empire apart.
Translation of Friedman: Empires need to use torture; charging the Emperor with crimes will tear apart not America the democratic republic but the American Empire.
That is true.
Shalom, Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The Shalom Center
— Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Philadelphia
Evil is evil, Mr. Friedman — and a country is generally defined by how it engages and disables it. There is nothing “new” about this enemy. What’s new is the United States of America is now practicing evil in retaliation.
— Sue Robbins, Panama, Republic of Panama
People like Tom Friedman disgust me they have been preaching that Osama uses dirty tricks yet when dirty tricks are done by The israelis and the American he justifies it with Poker face. IS the law only for the muslim countries and that they should abide by that. If the rapes murder and war crimes are committed by the West and their cronies State Of Israel it is looked the other way who is responsible for the 27 Homicides commited agains the helpless prisoners. Sudan should be held responsible for less Human deaths then deaths that have been infliceted on IRAQ a million plus. Solobodan Milosovic is ent to trial for less couple of thousand dead to HAgue Trial. Where is the International Court now or it just designed to convict Non Powerful members of the world since Elites like Friedman are claiming look the other way. Oligarch is in full bloom. Tom Firedman is lower then the terrorists.
— khalid, nj, usa
I don’t know where most of these commenters spend their time, but I eat lunch every day in a manufacturing plant in Ohio. The majority of the people here support torture of suspected terrorists. Don’t kid yourself. I’ve had this debate and found myself in the minority. Prosecuting the torturers will rip this country apart far worse than Watergate, because most people agreed that what Nixon did was wrong, but a majority of Americans will have grave misgivings about prosecuting American soldiers and spies who tortured suspected terrorists while trying to defend their country. This will be more akin to calling the cops on your brother because you think he might be abusing his kids. Thanksgiving dinner will be awkward.
Now I don’t agree with Friedman, and I think we should prosecute. But to do so would require the full support of the Obama administration and congress, which will lose substantial support, especially in those swing states that secured him the presidency, like Ohio and Virginia. It will embolden the critics of his domestic policies. It could mean the end of substantial health care reform and carbon emission reduction. Indirectly it could extend the recession by tying the administration’s hands. It is the single best way for the Democrats to hand the presidency back to the Republicans, and maybe congress too.
Now I’m OK with defeating those domestic initiatives, as I’m not a big supporter anyway. I also think that condoning torture will hurt this country far more than Al Quaeda ever will, or global warming. But there will be a big price to pay, especially when we suffer our next terrorist attack. Is prosecuting the torturers important enough to risk losing Obama in 2012 and most of his domestic initatives? I think that’s the question Obama is asking himself (Friedman too). And that’s why he won’t prosecute. But he should.
— Tom, Ohio
* Source: “A Torturous Compromise” Text by THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
(NYT, April 29, 2009)