Vail Valley Voices: Obama’s next crisis
Vail, CO, Colorado
Politicians on both sides of the aisle and the media are debating whether former Bush officials, and even George Bush himself, should be prosecuted for crimes relating to the treatment of terrorist prisoners.
Should President Obama open this can of worms by instructing prosecutors to investigate whether government officials lied and/or committed crimes against humanity? And should Obama release photographs of torture that took place at Gitmo, in Iraq and in Afghanistan?
Let’s face it. During war, atrocities occur. They can never be justified and perpetrators should be punished.
But what if our leaders endorse techniques that are subsequently deemed to be inhumane? Should soldiers and CIA operatives be punished for following orders? And even more important, should new presidents judge the actions of their predecessors? It’s a slippery slope that could very well be influenced by politics.
The Bush administration wanted to employ aggressive interrogation techniques. The justification was that important intelligence might be obtained that could save American lives.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been telling every media outlet that will listen that the information coerced with questionable tactics was invaluable and enabled the U.S. to prevent another 9/11 attack.
Many informed people are skeptical of this contention, although most agree that intelligence obtained has been beneficial.
If a president signs off on interrogation techniques (that they are not torture as defined by the Geneva Conventions) and his successor disagrees, what should happen?
Mr. Obama did one thing that most everyone concurs with. He banned specific techniques approved by the Bush administration that he feels were violations of the conventions. The question is whether Obama should pursue those Bush administration officials and the attorneys who gave legal cover to Bush.
Personally, I’m concerned about opening Pandora’s Box. Difficult decisions were made in the interest of protecting America during the war on terror.
Maybe the best course is to ensure that American soldiers and operatives remain well within acceptable boundaries relating to the treatment of prisoners.
It is possible that future presidents may be inclined to use more aggressive techniques in the interests of national security, so this drama may be replayed again at some future date.
The age-old questions about torture still remain. First, if we know a person has information that will save lives, is it moral and legal to interro-gate aggressively? Second, what specifically may interrogators do to prisoners that are not immoral and/or illegal?
I suppose if any one of us had a child or spouse in harm’s way, we would condone very aggressive techniques. But if it’s not personal (it’s someone else’s child or spouse), then it’s easy to be more magnanimous toward terrorist prisoners who might have potentially important intelligence.
Finally, what about media demands to release photographs of accused terrorists being abused?
There’s no doubt that these photographs will enrage our enemies. And human rights activists will be energized by the release.
What’s the upside? We all know what the pictures will reveal and that most of us will be disgusted.
It’s time we moved on. Let’s protect our fellow human beings (including our enemies) from torture and keep politics out of this very important issue.
Sal Bommarito is a New Yorker who has skied Vail for 20 years. He will periodically report on national issues that affect Vailites. A former investment banker, he recently published four fictional novels.