Thursday, August 12, 2010

Condi Rice: "let's pretend"

Condoleeza Rice is currently, as I have long emphasized, a sad story. See A performer lost in her performance here and my debate with Republican state senator Shawn Mitchell over whether she is a war criminal here. She has triumphed and reached great heights as part of an administration which widely practiced torture – only Colin Powell possibly has some prima facie case not to be a war criminal in this regard. That administration dealt a fundamental blow to the centerpiece of international law, the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture. It kidnapped a misidentified German citizen of Turkish origin Khalid El-Masri, and after torture aboard the CIA flight (wearing a diaper, in complete sensory deprivation) and then for years in Afghanistan, dumped him by Rice’s order without identification or money to return home in Albania. It removed Maher Arar, a Canadian-engineer, off a plane in transit at Laguardia and sent him to Syria to be tortured in a coffin-size cell for 10 months until Syrian intelligence told the CIA – “he’s just an engineer.” 23 CIA people have been convicted of kidnapping Shaikh Abu Omar al Masri from the streets of Milan in an Italian court along with two Italian officials...

The US was once not a torturer nation at least officially (the CIA long participated and instructed in torture for the Shah – it “trained” the Savak, his secret police – and throughout Latin and Central America, inter alia). But it became routine and increasingly open under Bush (consider Scott Horton here and here). Obama has made himself an accomplice to war crimes – the elite now protects the extraordinary criminals in its midst. President Clinton could be impeached for bad sex in the oval office (the weaker capitalist party takes it on the chin while the elite-preferred authoritarian party skips away). Bush just got up and bragged about “water-boarding” (he never liked going abroad anyway). For this elite, Condi Rice is an – in denial - poster child.

She now counsels black athletes at Stanford (Peter Minowitz sent me a charming column from a local paper about this). She accompanies Aretha Franklin at a Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra summer concert and played a concerto as lead pianist. For August 28, she has been made the lead speaker for the annual Josef Korbel fund raising dinner for my school – Korbel would be beside himself with grief – and the University of Denver. Everyone will play “let’s pretend.” No word of truth about the main feature of the Bush-Cheney administration – that it engaged in war crimes and disgraced the United States – will be spoken.

I have recently praised Michael Bloomberg and Ted Olson for their surprising and honorable words and acts, here, and here. For Bush and his cabinet members, Condi sometimes sang "Amazing Grace," composed by John Newton, once a slave trading captain who saw, "a wretch like me," that all those souls cried out to him, and was blessed to become an abolitionist. There are turnings in the road, possibilities of reconsideration, chances to reach some philosophical or non-partisan moment, to undo a career of reckless partisanship or tragically, at great heights, crime. Perhaps emulating John Newton, Condoleeza Rice could use her return to the University of Denver to say that upon reflection (and hearing the spirits of those murdered – over 100 in Pentagon custody by Pentagon statistics - kidnapped and tortured at her command or with her signing off), she has had a change of heart. These crimes must never by repeated by the democratic government of the United States of America.

She would pay no price for honesty and decency except among the deluded (there will be no prosecutions here, and it would insulate her if she chose to travel). She would be regarded as healing, to some extent, this great gash in the American and the international spirit.

Now Obama has run away from torture. He could have formed a bipartisan commission to investigate the facts over a couple of years, and, afterwards, charged an independent counsel to consider criminal proceedings. Instead, in blatant contrast to the honorable Tory Prime Minister David Cameron who honors the rule of law, Obama abstained. Democratic officeholders once criticized such crimes among Republicans. Most have collapsed into silence. As Glenn Greenwald often points out, the New York Times' reporting identifies torture straightforwardly if China or Libya does it. But the same act, described in the same words, is just “harsh interrogation” if the US commits it, and Bush’s bold admission that he was just emulating that great figure Torquemada in “waterboarding” drew not a peep. Even Obama, whose election in this country of onetime bondage and segregation, thrilled the world with the decent and re-inventive potentialities of American democracy, now has enmeshed himself in this. As today's news from the Guantanamo show trial of Omar Khadr captured fighting on the field of battle – the American invasion of Afghanistan - when he was 15 years old and mercilessly tortured reveals, Obama is now extending these powers See here, here and the striking piece by Khadr's fellow Canadian Maher Arar here.

Though Condi “does not do regret” - hers is so far not the God of John Newton - she is concerned with public service. With the desertion of her boss Bush who crows about water-boarding (Andrew Sullivan, once a supporter of the aggression in Iraq, wrote him a powerful open letter about undoing the damage he had wrought about a year ago, but sadly in character, Bush did the opposite), she is almost alone in the elite in being able to say these crimes should never have been committed on her watch, “we” were frightened by the possibility of another terror attack in the United States and did things that accomplished nothing – torture gets no good information – destroyed the lives of individuals, disgraced the United States, corrupted the torturers, sabotaged international law and cooperation, made Americans less safe (inspired widespread and, in this case, just enmity against us) – and should never be done again. America must stand for the rule of law and against torture.

Sadly, it is almost unimaginable that Condi could say such words or that the public officials – the Mayor and perhaps future Governor Hickenlooper, aware at least that the UN is not an “anti-American organization,” bicyclists not “dangerous” – or the unusual and admirable leaders of my University – will urge her to or say anything at all. As if under a spell…

To do (or cooperate) in obscene wrong while Condi extols “public service” – as the laws of democratic Athens say to Socrates in the Crito, “what will your words mean to us then?”

I have long spoken against Condi’s criminality. I am not a fan of jail time for public officials, let alone a former student I once admired – particularly those who would be willing at last to acknowledge and renounce such policies. I would be happy to see something civilized here, say a South African Truth and Reconciliation commission. It would be a little more difficult since the crimes are largely international (though against American law as well – see here), but Maher Arar is in Canada – the Canadian government having recognized its complicity and awarded him damages. He and others of the victims, including their families, could, in principle, be part of an audience for such a tribunal. So could international opponents of torture like the UN special rapporteur Manfred Nowak. And the many Americans who still fight for the rule of law.

Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu led political and legal practices far into the future while the American elite’s bipartisan consensus on torture declines into a pre-Magna Carta – pre-1218 AD – past. Still, we are of the same country as Martin Luther King who denounced “my government – the most violent government in the world” as well as the onetime promise of Obama. Yet it does not seem a serious possibility to have such hearings here, to re-earn the respect of the world, to put the era of “torture is as American as apple pie” behind us.

The danger is clear enough: a Palin or Romney administration would double down on torture and aggression, and other Republicans and Democrats will now incorporate this practice much more thoroughly. Obama has moved torture – at least water-boarding – off the American agenda temporarily, but has made, in Jack Balkin’s phrase, Cheney’s criminality a bipartisan legal regime. Though a onetime constitutional lawyer, the President has even ordered, without any legal procedure, the murder of an American citizen. The American court system still functions – see here – but the Supreme Court is at a tipping-point. The last ropes of the rule of the law are being cut. Condi is one of the few who did the crimes and could now speak out with influence against this.

She could thus render a genuine public service, something that would stand out for decency in American and for that matter, world history, something that would repair her career rather than continue to degrade it. She could honor the person she once was, the country she felt called upon to serve, the school she has chosen to return to. Perhaps on August 28th, perhaps as a path that could be taken in the future…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear such voices from the U.S.


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