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Failure to release torture photos a symptom of larger "rule of law" problems

Kevin Zeese [Executive Director, VotersForPeace.US, board member of VelvetRevolution.US]: "The images of torture and abuse of prisoners are vivid. They are an embarrassment to a nation that led the efforts for the Geneva Convention which made torture and other war crimes illegal. Now, the United States have sunk to the point where a "liberal" president is planning preventive detention of Gitmo prisoners that it cannot put on trial. Why can't they be put on trial? Because they were tortured and the evidence is tainted. So the war crime of torture leads to the new crime of indefinite detention without trial. What has happened to the rule of law?

Washington, DC is caught in a vice grip and unable to face up to the reality of torture and war crimes by US officials. Vice President Cheney, looking like a criminal returning to the scene of the crime, is doing his best to prevent any investigation of war crimes that seem to have their root in his office. The Congress, which was briefed 40 times on torture and remained silent, seems unable to act perhaps because of fear of its own complicity. Attorney General Eric Holder testified under oath that he approved renditions of people in US custody to countries that torture. And, the president has not only reversed himself and decided not to release thousands of photos and videos that will definitely show a program of torture and abuse, not a few bad apples violating the law, but he has appointed General McChrystal to head the Afghanistan War. McChrystal commanded troops involved in torture, and according to investigative reporter Sy Hersh, served as Cheney's assassin in chief.

What are Americans supposed to do? First we must recognize this is a participatory democracy and if we believe in the rule of law, we must take action. That is why I signed complaints against 12 Bush-era lawyers who helped to facilitate torture. We are seeking their disbarment. Shouldn't legal ethics mean, at a minimum, that if you use your legal license to provide cover for torture you should no longer have a legal license? Of course, this is only a first step. In the end the US needs a full discussion of torture and the appointment of a credible, special prosecutor who can investigate, gather the facts and apply the law without the confusion of partisan politics intruding.

Torture needs to be brought out into the open and debated. From where I stand it is hard to see any justification for it. Not only is torture illegal under both US and international law, it is counterproductive in numerous ways. For example:

1. Torture results in misinformation that confuses intelligence. Indeed, it was the word of a prisoner tortured in Egypt, at the request of the US, that led to Colin Powell telling the UN that there was a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein when in fact there was none. That prisoner allegedly committed suicide in Libya recently.

2. Torture is dangerous to US troops. First, if US troops are captured they are now more likely to be tortured. Second, the people the troops are fighting are less likely to surrender if they know they are facing torture.

3. Torture helps US enemies as it enrages local populations and provides a recruiting tool that builds their base of support while making it impossible for the US to win the hearts and minds of the public.

4. Torture weakens the United States by making it less likely that allies will join our cause. What country wants to be associated with a nation that is committing war crimes?

5. Torture undermines what the US would like to be. Americans do not want to be torturers. Americans want to be a nation that lives within the law where no one, not even a president of vice president, is above the law.

The torture toxin in our body politic needs to be removed and this can only be done by applying the rule of law. Please join our efforts by visiting VotersForPeace.US and DisbarTortureLawyers.com. Only active citizens can ensure the United States faces up to this issue."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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