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Commission on Accountability Should Be Part of Our Response to America's Torture Nightmare

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I have had a couple of overwhelming weeks and haven't been able to post until now what I would have preferred on this debate about George W. Bush administration torture policy accountability.

I have told quite a number of media outlets this last week that despite his best intentions, President Obama cannot impose a psychological equilibrium on the nation when it comes to sorting out the moral travesty of what we saw unleashed during the Bush administration in the management of combat detainees.

People being interrogated -- held under our direct control -- were killed, psychologically harmed, abused. . .yes, tortured.

That is what the Soviets and the Chinese under Mao and the Pol Pot regime were supposed to have as part of their MO -- not the United States of America.

A society's basic norms and values don't really matter when it is easy to wear them.

They matter at times of high stress -- and we as a nation have to deal with the fact that under stress, we empowered the likes of Richard Cheney and David Addington to take the nation to what they call "the dark side" -- and to me, this is one of the great outrages of our time.

Remind yourself of one corner of this nightmare by watching again Alex Gibney's Taxi to the Dark Side, or reading Jane Mayer's excellent book of nearly the same name, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.

We need something like a truth commission in this country to explore how and why America became a nation that embraced torture at the highest levels of political office. We need to understand the routenization and systematization of detainee management policies that violated the Geneva Conventions in far more than the law -- but in the most profound sense of the spirit and meaning of what these conventions were supposed to prevent.

Two men waterboarded 266 times in one month? Even if Geneva needed to be modified and modernized to deal with a different kind of war today -- there is no excuse for this in my book.

But we need institutions that will help the nation understand -- and hopefully not forget -- and never do such things again.

What Barack Obama has done is simply not enough. We need many things to happen to move us forward to deal with this blight on our nation's reputation -- including serious Congressional hearings, serious legal investigations -- and fewer prescriptions of politically contrived outcomes that satisfy neither the torture-embracing Cheney wing of the national security establishment nor the parts of American society who despise them for undermining this nation's position as the world's leading democracy.

I support the establishment of an independent, non-partisan commission to look into torture policy accountability -- and Amnesty International, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Carter Center, the Constitution Project, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Institute of Military Justice, the Open Society Institute, and numerous other organizations are calling for the establishment of such a commission.

From the website, CommissionOnAccountability.org:

We call on the President of the United States to establish an independent, non-partisan commission to examine and report publicly on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in the period since September 11, 2001.

The commission, comparable in stature to the 9/11 Commission, should look into the facts and circumstances of such abuses, report on lessons learned, and recommend measures that would prevent any future abuses.

We believe that the commission is necessary to reaffirm America 's commitment to the Constitution, international treaty obligations, and human rights. The report issued by the commission will strengthen U.S. national security and help to re-establish America's standing in the world.

I have sent this site out to a number of my friends -- and I hope you will sign up and forward to others who care about this issue as well.

We need numbers on this, and I hope those of you so inclined will help.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

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