Tuesday, April 21, 2009

President Obama is wrong to excuse torturers

I make no secret of the fact that I have been a strong supporter of Barack Obama, yet I have no sympathy whatsoever with his policy of excusing low level torturers. I understand political expediency. If we tell government servants that they have to question their orders, then that can make for some really difficult problems for those who try to implement policies. There have to be clear lines of authority and responsibility. That is precisely why all of the Nazis that the Allies prosecuted at Nuremburg should have been let go and had their pensions restored. Or did the victors make the right decision in prosecuting war crimes?

Forget the higher ups. It is precisely the foot soldiers--those who waterboarded and confined prisoners in boxes with insects and slammed prisoners against walls and forced prisoners to maintain painful postures for hours and all the rest--who ought to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Not Dick Cheney. His day in court will come eventually. Start with the little guys. Throw the book at them. They were precisely the ones who should have been questioning those orders and quitting their jobs. They were the people who stood to suffer for disobeying orders, and they were the people who should NOT be told that it was ok to do what they were told. If we don't get those guys to balk at authority, then there will always be people in authority who will not hesitate to use their complicity. They are individual human beings who are responsible for their behavior. Like anyone caught in a moral dilemma, they did not deserve to be put in the position of becoming a party to atrocious behavior. But they were caught in a train wreck that has happened all too often in human history. And, if history means anything, it is only the little people who can put a stop to the monsters that rule over them. I say throw the book at them. Show mercy when they turn state's evidence, but don't let them off the hook completely. We have to set a precedent that individuals are responsible for the choices they make, even if those choices are tough.