Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Doing the right thing on torture

A few weeks ago I argued in a piece for Guardian America that Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, should both publish the CIA report into torture abuses and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate illegal activity by CIA agents. The piece concluded:
As a young community organiser in Chicago, he would say: "Stick to the high road." His attorney general is doing just that, it would seem. But the special prosecutor road is not the right one. It may end up grubbing around in the under-growth rather than chopping the tops off the trees. What is needed instead is a public and high-powered open investigation with full legal, moral and political force behind it. Holder's route, should he pursue it, is a weaker option.

Holder's fear is that, if he does go ahead, he will be jeopardising the president's domestic programme. But Americans have the right to know what was done in their name. They have the right to a public debate about why it was wrong and why it has jeopardised national security. They have a right to see those responsible for authorising torture prosecuted.

This is not about revenge. It is about doing the right thing. It is about preventing the United States, in the face of future unknown security threats, from undermining its basic values of decency and respect for human life again. It is about pulling the rug from under those who seek to muddy these waters. In so doing, it may be a case of ultimately protecting the president's domestic agenda. Stick to the high road.
Well, Eric Holder, you did the right thing and well done to you. Courageous, necessary, strong, Holder, an unsung hero of this administration, is demonstrating the independence of thought and determination that, politically awkward as it may be, benefits any strong leader.

The rule of law is back in vogue and long may that remain the case. The Attorney General's statement yesterday was clear:
“As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law. Given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.”
The appointment of a special prosecutor is politically awkward but legally right. Moreover, this will be the beginning of the road that will lead to full investigation and potential prosecution of those who sanctioned torture in the Bush administration under the auspices of 'enhanced interrogation techniques.' John Durham has been appointed to determine whether a full investigation of any agency employees and contractors is warranted. Should he come to the conclusion there is justification then the immediate question must be, why did they feel empowered to act in the way that the did? That question leads right to the Department of Justice, the Pentagon, and, ultimately, the White House.

Finally, we may be on the path to not simply moving on and letting bygones be bygones but also holding those who made decisions that were against human rights, justice, and US national security to account.

Eric Holder, we salute you.

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