Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Argentina, and Chile, Cry for the U.S.!

When a democratically elected government replaced the brutal military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, it took years for the full truth about the former regime's tortures and murders of political opponents to see the light of day. The restoration of democracy was too fragile, and the country was too divided, to withstand an investigation immediately.

Do we live in Chile? President Obama has refused to set up an independent truth commission to find out exactly how much blood is on our hands because of the Bush/Cheney programs of "enhanced interrogation" (torture) and "rendition" (torture by other nations as subcontractors to the U.S.). He has resisted Congressional efforts to get to the bottom of it. It's true that he released more documents about waterboarding than we had ever seen before, and he has said he will not stand in the way if the Justice Department decides there are criminal cases to pursue. But his insistence on looking forward, not back, runs the risk of making him an accomplice after the fact.

How terrible are the crimes of the CIA under the last administration, anyway? According to Jane Mayer in The New Yorker:
The C.I.A. has apparently done nothing to penalize the officer who oversaw one of the most notorious renditions—that of a German car salesman named Khaled el-Masri. He was abducted while on a holiday in Macedonia, and flown by the agency to Afghanistan, where he was detained in a dungeon for five months without charges, before being released. From the start, the rendition team suspected that his case was one of mistaken identity. But the C.I.A. officer in charge at Langley—the agency asked that the officer’s name be withheld—insisted that Masri be further interrogated. “She just looked in her crystal ball and it said that he was bad,” a colleague recalls. Masri says that he was chained in a freezing cell with no bed, and given water so putrid that he could smell it across the room. He was threatened and stripped, and could hear other detainees crying all around him. After several weeks, the C.I.A. officer in charge learned that Masri’s German passport was not a forgery, as was originally suspected, and that he was not the terror suspect the agency thought he was. (The names were similar.) Even so, the officer in charge refused to release him. Eventually, Masri went on a hunger strike, losing sixty pounds. Skeptics in the agency went directly over the officer’s head to Tenet, who realized that his agency had been brutalizing an innocent man. Masri was released after a hundred and forty-nine days. But the officer in charge was not disciplined; in fact, a former colleague says, “she’s been promoted—twice.” Masri, meanwhile, has been unable to sue the U.S. government for either an apology or damages, because the courts consider the very existence of rendition a state secret—a position that the Obama Justice Department has so far supported.

If Obama believes he has no choice but to do this, cry for the United States and its victims!