Yesterday, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported a 6 to 5 decision rendered by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals resulting in the rejection of a law suit brought by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) regarding the U.S. government's practice of rendition. "Rendition" is a sanitized term for the policy of sending people suspected of terrorist activity to be tortured in other countries so that the dirty hands are foreign and not American. The reason for this narrow judicial decision was that American 'state secrets' were at stake. Eric Holder, preceded by the Bush administration, settled on this approach and won the appeal by a slim majority. The upshot of this decision is that the C.I.A. won and the victims of torture lost.
The two individuals who sued the government are from Morocco and Egypt. The reason they were told that they lost their case was that for them to win it would have hurt the national interests of the United States. To quote The Washington Post, "[the] government's decision to invoke the state's secrets privilege means that the case cannot go forward."
Thus, the Bush and Obama administrations have succeeded in allowing the C.I.A. to torture individuals in foreign countries. Is it possible then, for these two folks to go home to get justice for their ordeal? Well, just a quick look at the annual reports of Morocco and Egypt from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will confirm that both countries regularly torture detainees as well. No hope there.
The victims of torture the world over just lost a big one. Because the most powerful nation on earth cannot allow its state secrets to be exposed, law and order be damned and the powerful are allowed to do want whatever they want. Hope, which is the only thing victims of torture really have, is thrown away like a handkerchief.
Any government involved in the dirty and brutal practice of torture always puts forth some fig leaf of protection to justify it. The United States uses the 'state secrets' doctrine and other governments use much the same. Fear tactics are all governments' excuses. It is the nature of the bully to always have an excuse for inflicting damage. But bullies must be dealt with. Why does Eric Holder support the darkness and history of torture committed during the Bush-Cheney administration? Why is he not pursuing members of the previous administration for the torture that went on in rendition sites as well as the prisons under American control in Iraq and Gitmo? Is it really left up to non-governmental organizations like the ACLU and the CCR to uphold the Constitutional principles that are meant to protect all of us from the torturers hired and funded by the C.I.A.? Have we come to this as a nation? Perhaps.
When countries slide into economic decline, they get mean and ugly. History is filled with such stories. The mighty want law and order until they feel the diminishment of their power and then it is the reverse. Citizens' rights become commodities. The law tilts to the protection of those in power. Prisons become homes to millions. Torture flourishes as the bad boys are allowed to do their dirty work. Men grab girls and steal their innocence and peace. Eternal memories are etched into the minds of many innocents due to the misguided policies of governments that hurt the very people they are charged with protecting.
You might think I am going over the top. But if you do, please spend some time with a victim of torture. Ask them what happened to them? If they can tell you, it means they are heading back to healthiness. Seek out the reports of human rights groups and read them slowly. See how few torture victims ever get justice for the crimes committed against them. See how many commit suicide just from the memories of their experiences. Find out how instruments of doctors terrify their souls for the rest of their lives. Pretend that you can hear the screams in the prison from these vile practices.
Then remember that our military does not want torture in their ranks. The military knows that the information sought is often inane and unusable. The generals know that if we torture detainees, the enemy will respond in kind and the first to get hurt on our side are our soldiers.
We told the world that we Americans uphold the rule of law. Well, that message just got changed. When I was the director of Amnesty International (US section), we called for a single standard for human rights. Many in Congress agreed that should be the rule. The Obama administration fails this basic tenet of a single standard. In fact, they are setting up an apparatus that protects wrongdoers acting on behalf of the U.S. government instead of protecting us citizens. I thought the last election changed this approach.
The court of appeals for the 9th Circuit saw enough merit in the case to order the government to pay the plaintiffs' legal cost. But the issue is not money. The issue is justice under the law.
My answer is this: fire Eric Holder. Reopen the case and have a new Attorney General allow the plaintiffs to take their case to the Supreme Court. The principle of justice for all must be restored by the American judicial system. The President needs to meet with these two individuals and apologize for the treatment they received at the hands of our American agents. Prosecute the violators. Now and always. As a nation, we should not leave the administration of justice in the hands of non-governmental organizations, as good as the ACLU and CCR are. The business of upholding justice belongs to government, pure and simple.
Finally, if this case does get heard by the Supreme Court, I hope that the Justices will study the torture cases in Chile, Argentina, Bosnia, Peru, South Africa, Rwanda, Serbia and Liberia. There is a growing consciousness around the world that demands all governments be held to a single standard for human rights. Namely, that no one should be tortured and that if torture does occur, the torturers go to jail.