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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Truth, Justice, and the American Way?

A couple of days ago, the Obama administration told a federal judge that it would release photographs of abuse of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq, as asked by the American Civil Liberties Union in a 2003 Freedom of Information Act request. ABC News reports that Dr. Mark M. Lowenthal, a former Assistant Director at the Central Intelligence Agency during the Bush administration, calls the ACLU's actions "prurient" and "reprehensible."

Lowenthal said the president's moves in the last week have left many in the CIA dispirited, based on "the undercurrent I've been getting from colleagues still in the building, or colleagues who have left not that long ago."

"We ask these people to do extremely dangerous things, things they've been ordered to do by legal authorities, with the understanding that they will get top cover if something goes wrong," Lowenthal says. "They don't believe they have that cover anymore." Releasing the photographs "will make it much worse," he said.

Even though President Obama has announced that the Justice Department will not prosecute CIA officers who were operating within the four corners of what they'd been told was the law, Lowenthal says members of the CIA are worried. "They feel exposed already, and this is going to increase drumbeat for an investigation or a commission" to explore detainee treatment during the Bush years, he said. "It's going to make it much harder to resist, and they fear they're then going to be thrown over."
Which is a good development, to my way of thinking. Lower-level officers and employees of the United States Government should think twice about carrying out illegal and immoral orders, no matter what Administration is in power; in fact, they should refuse to follow such orders.

The Nuremberg trials and the Tokyo War Crimes trials established the principle that "I was only following orders" is not at all a sufficient defense when it comes to violations of fundamental human rights and basic decency: this country along with its World War II allies prosecuted and punished a great many German and Japanese leaders and their subordinates for carrying out such orders.

Just imagine how different, how very different, the story of the Nazi regime would be if masses of German government employees as well as German soldiers had refused to follow the inhuman policies of the Nazi government.

Imagine how very, very different the world would be if everyone believed more strongly in "love your neighbor as yourself" rather than "my country, right or wrong."

As to who should be investigated and charged with war crimes now, in this country, well, that remains to be seen; I think the country, or at least the great flag-waving mass of ordinary people who don't want to believe anything truly evil has been done in their name, is just now starting to wake up to the fact that the schoolbook picture of America as a cartoon-colored fantasyland where nobody in government ever tells a lie or does anything wrong - is utterly false.

What I say is, let all the facts be uncovered and published, and then let the truth fall where it belongs. Andrew Sullivan:

It's the elite that doesn't want accountability. Because it's their asses on the line.

There is a difference between good faith mistakes and a criminal conspiracy to violate and make a mockery of the rule of law. That's why a real investigation of all of it - including the alleged results - needs to take place and take its time. Give it two years to report, to allow emotions and tempers to cool. Then and only then make a decision on prosecution, so that there is no scintilla of haste or heat.
To close one's eyes and ears to the shocking, unpleasant, revolting, and highly inconvenient truth is to be a willing partner in all those crimes - a false patriotism that loves a pretty lie better than it loves one's country.

But "when I was a child, I thought as a child, and spoke as a child"; yet "now is the time to put away childish things."

It's hard, very hard, to tear one's self away from that pretty grade-school image of America; just as it is very hard to grow up and realize that your own mother and father are, after all, only human, and do make mistakes - sometimes very serious ones. Dysfunctional families are the ones who have lots of secrets, who tell long-running lies to outsiders and to one another in order to keep up appearances, who neglect the truth behind the facade they show to the world, who don't deal with the real problems at the heart of things.

Likewise, I would suggest that a true patriot is the one who educates himself to see past the rosy, false, Disneyesque myths about his country to see it as it really is - and then works to make right what is wrong, and to lift up what is fallen: "that government of the people, by the people, and for the people should not perish from the earth."

Listen to the words, not just the music, of this song - about an abusive family - or a dysfunctional nation?

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