December 13, 2013
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Former State Department official William H. Taft IV urges Congress to release publicly the report on torture committed or signed off on by agents of the U.S. government. We need to be a moral example, he says. Not torturing is one way to be an example, but so is punishing the perpetrators and letting people know what happened. Even if we’re not torturing anymore, Taft argues, pretending we never did is like a retroactive sanction of torture.

Most commenters agreed. Comments today were longer and more pronged than usual.

DavGreg says hushing up torture is of a piece with other ways America has let itself down:

The United States tried and executed people for using Simulated Drowning (Water boarding) against US and Allied troops during World War II as a War Crime. The fact that water boarding is torture and a war crime has not changed. The fact that it is against US law via the various treaties we have signed has not changed. Just because a bunch of lawyers say it is O.K. does not make it so.

During my Cold War Army service we were taught that not torturing prisoners was the best possible method we could practice that would encourage the humane treatment of American POWs in future conflict. Another concept taught was that by being known as a non-torturing nation enemy soldiers would be more likely to surrender instead of fighting to the bitter end. We were also taught that George Washington rejected torture even though it was known that the British were torturing members of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. All of that was thrown away by Bush, Dick Cheney and their cronies.

This dark episode in US history that we have yet to leave has scarred us as a nation and forever stained our reputation around the world. Americans like to think of our nation as special, but we really are just like every other nation in that we have committed genocide against Native Americans (Trail of Tears to name one), condoned slavery, practiced Apartheid via Jim Crow, spied on our citizens without warrant (NSA & FBI), denied citizens Habeas Corpus (Civil War and Global War on Terror), illegally rendered people outside the US, executed mentally deficient prisoners, denied fair trials to the accused (Guantanamo Tribunals) and tortured POWs (thanks to Bush/Cheney & Company).

Salomo argues that openess on the subject might help undo some of the damage on a personal level:

These days Khaled El Masri appeared in the German newspapers again. He was mistakenly deemed a terrorist, abducted by the CIA and tortured.

In the ten years since then, El Masri, who had no criminal history in the 40 years before this event, remained unable to re-integrate into society and was frequently sent to prison for criminal acts against people and institutions he thought had done him wrong.

The damage done by US torture goes beyond political or moral damage. The lives of real people were destroyed and thrown back into societies, where they take and cause further damage. If the people of the United States are fully informed of what was done in their name and the consequences thereof, if there is a real discussion and acknowledgement that torture was wrong and a crime, that would be a valuable step towards healing for the victims of torture and towards preventing such crimes in the future.

volker1 is glad Taft is talking about it, even if talk is all that happens:

Thank you for keeping the topic in people’s minds. Unfortunately, that there will be zero consequences is not hard to predict.

CalypsoSummer thinks an accounting will come in time:

President Obama chose not to investigate those heinous actions, in order to keep the country from splintering any further than it already had. The thugs responsible may have grinned, shrugged, and relaxed, but that might be a bit premature. For one thing, we’re still prosecuting Nazis — there is no statute of limitations on war crimes. They should also remember that it was established at Nurenburg that, “I was just following orders” isn’t a valid defense.

And ozma1 argues that the conspiracy part of the anti-torture law is elastic enough to prosecute those who condoned or ordered torture:

In case Taft’s reference to United States law isn’t clear, here is 18 USC § 2340A – Torture (emphasis added):

(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.

(c) Conspiracy.— A person who CONSPIRES to commit an offense under this section SHALL BE SUBJECT TO THE SAME PENALTIES (OTHER THAN THE PENALTY OF DEATH) AS THE PENALTIES PRESCRIBED FOR THE OFFENSE, THE COMMISSION OF WHICH WAS THE OBJECT OF THE CONSPIRACY.

SOURCE: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2340A

While cashman7323 takes the “your mom” argument to unprecedented “your great-grandfather” level:

This fool’s forefather cost us dearly with the election of Woodrow Wilson – a fiend who did irreparable damage to constitutional principles.

There’s no statute of limitations for that, either. Although Wilson’s election was arguably more Theodore Roosevelt‘s responsibility.