These are the times when justice matters most

Posted on 12-18-2014 by
Tags: LIT , Miranda

 Last week I attended an event at Human Rights First where the venerable human rights group honored Senators Diane Feinstein and John McCain with the 2014 Beacon Prize for “their leadership to end the use of torture and cruel treatment of prisoners by the United States”.

Two weeks ago Senator Feinstein’s Select Committee on Intelligence released its report based on the agency’s own records on the use of torture in the CIA’s post 9/11 interrogation and detention program. The report details brutal practices against detainees they held. It is difficult to comprehend and accept many of the disclosures made by the report.

These disclosures comes at a time when those in charge of protecting American lives are already under sharp scrutiny following the decisions not to indict officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo for the deaths of African American civilians while on duty. In any city in America, most police officers carry out their job honorably and justly to secure their communities; around the world, most CIA analysts go above and beyond to do their jobs to help prevent global threats to the homeland because they are motivated by a desire and duty to protect and serve. Being on these frontlines whether fighting terrorism abroad or securing a community from daily violence is an incredibly tough job.

United States and international laws already state that the use of torture and excessive force is illegal. But what happens when those who are charged with guarding us cross a line? What happens when they do so because they, their superiors and many in the established policy making community justify such actions for the purported sake of national and local security? Regardless of the challenges of protecting the nation and our communities, should anyone, especially those charged with our safety be above the law? What are the repercussions to our governance, our social fabric and our morality when one segment of us is able to commit unjust acts of violence without legal consequences?

As it stands officers who kill civilians on the job are almost never indicted and regardless of the political gesturing, those who tortured will not face prosecution. But maybe they should, as should those who create the policy framework to condone the use of torture. In order to stop these tactics from being used, maybe we should actually implement our stated ideals. Officers and agents in the line of duty need to have no doubt that they too are accountable to the law—and should not enjoy any political cover that allows them to engage in behaviors that undermine human rights and the rule of law.

Similarly, the barrage of torture apologists are now telling us, despite evidence to the contrary that torture led to actionable intelligence and that plots against the US were foiled. Even if this were true, the ends don’t justify the means. As Senator John McCain stated in a speech last week:

"I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering…. The use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights."

As a country built on a set of purported values—the inviolability of human life and dignity; the freedom of speech, religion and conscience; the right to due process and just punishment—we must acknowledge that torture is inherently wrong and should never be used by anyone,  especially not by someone meant to represent the United States.  Those members of the CIA who ordered the use of torture or engaged in “enhanced interrogation techniques” must be held accountable for violating United States and international law—and most importantly those who created the policy and political environment to condone such illegal actions should face their day in court. When we allow an officer of the law to act with impunity, we show the world that the rule of law is just an arbitrary concept that is invoked only when convenient.

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