Some days it appears that torture is a dead issue in America. But at other times, events occur that belie such pessimism. One such event was the admission by Daniel Levin, author of one of the Bush administration's infamous torture memos, that criminal investigations of Bush officials for their role in the implementation of torture was acceptable to him.
Here's the full statement, made last week during an American University/Washington College of Law conference on professional ethics and the torture memos (video):
“I personally am not opposed to criminal investigation of the conduct of myself and others during the period in question, because I think any government employee is appropriately subject to investigation of their conduct while they are serving in the government.”Daniel Levin, as then Acting Assistant Attorney General, was the author of the December 30, 2004 Memorandum to then Deputy Attorney General James Comey, which took up the issue of the legal standards surrounding the CIA's use of torture techniques, previously allowed by opinions written in August 2002, and signed by previous Deputy Attorney General Jay Bybee. But these opinions were heavily ghostwritten by John Yoo, with assistance from Cheney's counsel, David Addington. (Addington's role was a matter of some caviling, as noted by Marcy Wheeler last May.) Levin famously critiqued a number of the conclusions in the Yoo/Bybee memos regarding torture, but as David Cole pointed out in his recently published book, The Torture Memos, the Levin memo "did not change anything with respect to the bottom line.... [it] was more an exercise in public relations than in law."
Reportedly, Levin also told the AU panel "he would support the creation of an independent commission to review the Bush torture policies."
The Alliance for Justice (AFJ), in a November 9 press release, coupled the Levin admission with news of John Yoo's withdrawal from this week's Federalist Society convention. Yoo was due to speak at a November 12 panel on "the role of government lawyers in the war on terror," along with his civil defense attorney, Miguel Estrada. (Yoo is being sued by former supposed "dirty bomber" and torture victim, Jose Padilla.) AFJ had planned a demonstration outside the Convention the day of Yoo's participation.
The President of the Federalist Society said Yoo canceled because of "a scheduling conflict." Yoo himself won't comment, but AFJ president Nan Aron, said:
John Yoo’s withdrawal from the Federalist Society Convention shows that pressure is building to hold accountable those who provided legal cover for torture....AFJ intends to follow through with their D.C. demonstration at the Mayflower Hotel, site of the Federalist Society convention, on November 12, as part of National Torture Accountability Day. AFJ has been conducting a petition campaign aimed at getting Obama Attorney General Eric Holder to release the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility report on the torture memos. It's widely believed the OPR report is highly critical of the actions of the Bush Administration attorneys, and its footnotes and appendices may be a gold mine for anti-torture researchers and lawyers.
Meanwhile, the news on the other side of the torture fence, if you will, is not so good. Al Jazeera just published a well-documented article describing the ongoing abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo prison:
Authorities at the prison deny mistreating the inmates, but interviews with former detainees, letters from current prisoners and sworn testimony from independent medical experts who have visited the prison have painted a disturbing picture of psychological and physical abuse very much at odds with White House rhetoric on prisoner treatment....Meanwhile, the Center for Constitutional Rights has joined psychologist Trudy Bond in pressing a licensure complaint in the State of Louisiana against Colonel Larry James, a former chief psychologist of the Guantanamo Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs), who has been accused of participation in torture at that facility. The facts behind the case have been described well in a couple of articles recently. Despite plenty of evidence of unethical and illegal conduct, the Louisiana Board of Examiners refuses to even investigate James (who has meanwhile decamped to the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University in Ohio, where he serves as dean).
According to the letter, prison authorities inflict "humiliating punishments" on inmates and prisoners face "intentional mental and physical harm".
"The situation is worsening with the advent of the new management," the prisoner writes, noting... that the new rules were imposed in January this year. Conditions, he says, "do not fit the lowest standard of human living".
The James case deserves a wider hearing in the court of public opinion, because, as Yoo's withdrawal from the Federalist Society Convention, and Levin's acceptance of investigations indicate, exposure and political protest are necessary if accountability for torture and other war crimes is going to ever be a reality. As a society, we cannot let the fact of U.S. use of torture slip out of the public eye. That is what the torturers want more than anything.
We cannot let that happen, because as the activities at Guantanamo even recently demonstrate, brutality and inhumanity once unleashed threaten the underpinnings of legality and morality in a society. We've been to the precipice. Let us decisively step back. That will only happen when wide-ranging investigations, open access to government documentation, and criminal prosecutions occur.