Torturers R’ Us: Moral Hazard Pardoned

In response to the devastating Senate Report on Torture, President Obama stated, I’m paraphrasing, “litigating the past will do us no good. We must look to the future.” At first glance this approach may sound reasonable enough, however, this course, a guiding principle of Obama’s administration, is fraught with thinking errors and inconsistent with our supposed legal ethos. Imagine prisoners serving time in prison grappling with such impotent language? “The government certainly litigated my past. I wasn’t convicted of future crimes, but rather, those committed in the so-called past.” Two other issues are evident in this injurious way of thinking: By not prosecuting the crimes, the American people assume the practices were necessary. By not prosecuting the crimes, moral hazard is vacated, assuring a repeat of the same crimes by future administrations.

Along comes President Elect Donald Trump. A man who stated, and I quote, “we’re gonna bring back waterboarding and a whole lot worse.” He actually campaigned on a promise to break the law, going so far as to suggest he’d place former CIA agent Jose Rodriguez in charge of the agency. The same Rodriguez who birthed the practices then burned the video cassettes containing contemporaneous visual evidence of the monstrosities. If you want to blame someone for the future practices of a Trump Administration look no further than Barrack Obama.

I’m not writing this in a political sense. This is important to me because I was on the front lines of this fight while serving in the army during the Bush years. I can barely live with the fact that I bear my own responsibility for prosecuting these policies, unwittingly or not. The men I served with did not torture or abuse those we detained. I did not know the extent to which our policies supported these brutalities. I’m also not sure what I would have, or could have done had I known? Our unit was commanded by officers who stressed the rules of war and the mission to protect and support civilians caught up in between those we sought and our mission to protect the man on either side of you in battle. Brutality was not completely absent, nevertheless, it was acknowledged and addressed in its aftermath.

The things I’ve learned since leaving the Army from excellent journalism and reports like the Senate’s report on torture are as astonishing as they are abhorrent. The treatment many of these detainees were subjected to can only be described as felonious and un-American. That these practices were not only encouraged, but US government official policy, seems the definition of criminal. Just because your lawyer says a law is no longer justified, doesn’t make it legal. Just because you believe the Geneva Conventions are “quaint,” doesn’t mean you can table the agreed upon rules of war. Remember, Nixon once said, “if the President does it, it’s not illegal.” That’s the language of an autocrat. That’s not the Constitutional principles we ascribe to as American’s. The fate of Richard Nixon and most of his henchmen bears this truth out.

What does any of this mean for the ordinary veteran, or for that matter, the ordinary American? It’s impossible to say or even predict. In a binary world, the choice between Trump or Clinton feels a bit pathetic. Our country faces a moral crises overtly under Trump just as it would have quietly under Clinton.

My own struggle with the wars we continue to fight goes on regardless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#WARCRIMES & THE RECKONING

How many people have been negatively impacted by the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq? How many have been killed, both civilian and military, throughout the greater Middle East, Europe, Central and Eastern Asia, Australasia, even the United States, by both direct and indirect result of George W. Bush’s decision to topple the Baathist Saddam Hussein regime that had ruled Iraq for nearly 30 years? As a thought experiment, let’s attempt to balance out those incredible ongoing losses with the benefits of Iraq’s supposed liberation. For one, “the evil dictator Saddam Hussein…Hitler revisited” was deposed along with his porous army and political party. I suppose the “War Dogs” that corpratized warfare in Iraq and the larger War on Terror made, and continue to rake in, massive profits? I’m sure some of the largest businesses in the energy field have done well privatizing the 2nd largest oil reserves in the entire world? As far as I can tell the entire mission can only be judged a failure of epic proportions that will no doubt be recorded in history for the massive human toll it has, and still is, exacting upon the world.

But this is little more than my humble opinion, right? I mean, take a listen around the media in America and try to find any serious voices that agree with my assessment. It’s just down right un-American to judge the war and a living President so harshly, despite how apple-pie American it is to “tell it like it is.” About as close as you’ll get to a US corporate journalist denigrated the Bush Administration so poignantly is commentary along the lines of: “Saddam was evil, so that was a good thing but,…you know, Iran, Syria, Libya, the Arab Spring, al-Qaeda in Iraq, WMD’s, etc ad infinitum.”

This is not to say that true scholars such as Andrew Bacevich haven’t echoed my assessment, -or mine theirs- of the 2003 Iraq War. Or professional journalists like Jeremy Scahill at The Intercept, it’s just these voices, when rarely heard in the mainstream, are typically mocked by some counter-pundit like Paul Wolfiwitz while simultaneously undercut by a partisan ideologue who cannot go so far as to say they were utterly and completely wrong back in 2002-03. It’s going to be hard as hell to face up to the total mess of this war, however, like it or not, a reckoning will come. An epic failure such as it is will no doubt push back.

As a participant in the initial invasion in March 2003, I bear my own responsibility and suffer my own lifelong scars. When I deployed to Afghanistan in 2002, I held a deep belief that our mission to destroy al-Qaeda was a righteous one that was worth the sacrifice. I can say now without pause that the day I learned we would be refitted for Iraq while continued operations to hunt al-Qaeda in the AfPak weren’t fully realized, was the day I began to drift from righteous to dismayed. I was not alone in my early frustrations, yet complete dissent went against almost everything the Army. In retrospect, it’s easy to put it simple: We left Afghanistan and the hunt for those involved in 9/11 to topple a sovereign government, firing its massive military, thus birthing a well-armed, well-trained, bored, angry militia we named “The Insurgency,” that now calls itself the Islamic State or ISIL.

So yeah, we couldn’t have fucked it up any worse if we had wanted to. And to put it all rather bluntly, the ultimate responsibility for this modern-day fiasco falls upon President George W. Bush. Unless there was a secret coup d’etat that controlled foreign policy in 2003, then George W. Bush is the person most responsible for this disaster. Just on the orbit of US foreign policy, has there ever been an US President so culpable for such destruction and mayhem? Sure, WWII led the US President’s FDR and Harry Truman to order massive destruction upon Germany and the Empire of Japan. The difference in terms of culpable morality is stark.

Take stock in the Bush Administration’s initial term; 2001-05. It’s a fair argument to claim Bush shouldn’t be held accountable for the 9/11 attacks, despite the certainty of guilt laid at the feet of Obama had the enormous terrorist attack happened during his Presidency. Bush cannot be absolved the crimes associated with his torture/rendition policy or the unprovoked attack upon Iraq, a sovereign nation and member of the United Nations. At minimum, these calculated operations must not be ignored or go unpunished, if we intend to continue thinking of ourselves as a nation of laws, “the indispensable nation.” To simply claim “this was war, bad things happen in war,” only muddies the future of a reasonable world order. The United States has hanged many who made that claim, or that they were “just following orders.” Our credibility will be bankrupt until our government addresses these hypocrisies. Keeping our heads buried in the sand, so to speak, will only prolong the inevitable reckoning. History proves over and over this fundamental truth.