[The Times, U.K.]



Die Tageszeitung, Germany

America and Torture: 'Just Following Orders'


"If Obama's only intention is to avoid antagonizing government agencies and the military, then he has thrown away a good deal of the confidence that the world has placed in him. … The claim of just following orders can be validly made only by those living under a dictatorship.  … But if by offering immunity to the perpetrators, Obama has prepared the ground for an unsparing assessment of Bush's policy, then Obama will be thoroughly vindicated."


Commentary By Bettina Gaus


Translated By Jonathan Lobsien


April 21, 2009


Germany - Die Tageszeitung - Original Article (German)

The more that the gruesome details of the incidents are known, the easier it becomes to sympathize with the victims. One hundred eighty three times, suspected terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was subjected to so-called waterboarding and made to suffer the fear of death by drowning. If we had only known! There was an apparent system to the crimes of the Bush Administration. It wasn't just a matter of obtaining confessions and information relevant to security - it was also about breaking people. So should this raise the level of revulsion over such practices? No. It need not and should not.



A violation of human rights remains a violation of human rights, and behind torture, there is always a system. But there are horrors that cannot be intensified - that cannot be topped. A single experience of torture is traumatic. Whether 183 experiences of torture are worse than one - that's a judgment that can be made only by those concerned - not by the public. Few can assess whether a single rape is easier to cope with than a series of sexual assaults.


Torture has no place in a democratic society. Point made. With this statement the appraisal begins and ends. It could also be said: He who holds a prisoner under water a single time acts no less illegally or abominably than someone who holds a detainee under water 183 times. But what does this fact mean for the promise of immunity that U.S. President Obama has granted the perpetrators?


In this context, it isn't about what the public, which wasn't directly involved, may or may not put up with. It's rather about a political assessment of decisions in the field of tension between what can be done and what should be done. This is more difficult than it may appear.


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There may always be good reason to let the "little ones" go - namely when one goes after the "big ones" and, therefore, the masterminds. This is a widely accepted principle in the battle against crimes like drug trafficking and forced prostitution. But there could also be good reason to let the "big ones" go: namely when thousands more victims would otherwise face certain death. Dictators who have reason to fear being brought before an international criminal court cling to power more stubbornly than those who may look forward to a comfortable, stress-free exile.


Clearly this is unsatisfactory. The longing for criminals to be punished somewhere, sometime, is the source of all desire for justice and all religious ideas of hell. But since we now live on earth and not in the hereafter: how is one to evaluate the decision of Barack Obama, the most powerful man in the world?


But hang on. If the only intention of the U.S. president is to avoid antagonizing government agencies and the military, then he will be throwing away a good deal of the confidence that the world has placed in him. The claim of just following orders can be validly made only by those living under a dictatorship. And whatever else might be said of the United States - it is not a dictatorship.  



A torturer, who would have told his story to the U.S. media, would have become a star. Unlike his counterparts in Africa or Latin America, he certainly needn't fear ending up in an anonymous mass grave. This doesn't justify amnesty.



Publico, Spain: Torture Charges Filed Against Bush Legal Team; Judge Garzon Handles Case

Hurriyet, Turkey: Dick Cheney's Torture Logic is 'Deeply Offensive'

Die Tageszeitung, Germany: America and Torture: 'Just Following Orders'

Financial Times Deutschland, Germany: Obama: Inviting the Next Torture Scandal

Jornal de Noticias, Portugal: Poverty and Torture: Bush Has Company in Europe

Le Figaro, France: Obama's Moral Crusade: A Few Words of Caution

The Independent, U.K.: America Doesn't Need a Witch-Hunt

BBC News, U.K.: U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Calls CIA Exemption 'Illegal'

Ottawa Citizen, Canada: Torture the 'Chicago Way'

Toronto Star, Canada: Winking at CIA Abuse


If Obama, however, with his promise of immunity "for the little ones," has prepared the ground for a candid and unsparing assessment of the policy of his predecessor, then this promise will be thoroughly vindicated. There are indications that offer hope. For example, his release of memos on interrogation practices of the Bush era. 


The publication of the memos is a rather courageous step. How it is intended, the next few months will surely show. Perhaps criminal proceedings against former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney will take place. That would make the discussion over CIA amnesty obsolete. And if that doesn’t happen? Then Obama will have lost his charm. 



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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US April 23, 7:59pm]


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