Those who argue there is no basis for torture prosecutions are wrong – Dick Cheney, meet Chuckie Taylor, aka Charles Taylor Jr., Charles Taylor II, Charles McArthur Emmanuel, Roy M. Belfast, Jr. According to Reuters, he is the first American citizen to be tried under the U.S. Anti-Torture Law.
“Belfast's prosecution on the torture charges was the first ever under a statute that criminalizes torture and provides U.S. courts jurisdiction to hear cases involving acts of torture committed outside the United States if the offender is a U.S. national or is present in the United States, regardless of nationality.”
Diamonds aren’t forever
Taylor is the son of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor; he was purportedly the model for the maniacal character André Baptiste, Jr., in the movie Lord of War. In January, he was convicted in U.S. District Court and sentenced to 97 years in prison for authorizing the torture of prisoners in Liberia.
Taylor’s father is facing trial in a special court in The Hague on charges that include murder, rape, mutilation, and conscripting child soldiers in neighboring Sierra Leone. Father and son were alleged to be involved in the trade of so-called blood diamonds to finance their wars. They defended their actions as necessary to protect their country from terrorist threats. Sound familiar?
That is not to defend Taylor, far from it. He is a thug who got what he deserved for his heinous crimes – well, maybe not what he deserved, but what a civilized society is able to mete out as punishment. It is to suggest that people in power find it all too easy to justify torture – just as they find it easy to make high-blown speeches about it.
Selective outrage, selective prosecution
“The lengthy prison term handed down today justly reflects the horror and torture that Taylor Jr. visited upon his victims. Our message to human rights violators, no matter where they are, remains the same: We will use the full reach of U.S. law, and every lawful resource at the disposal of our investigators and prosecutors, to hold you fully accountable for your crimes.” Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich, Criminal Division
“This sentence sends a resounding message that torture will not be tolerated here at home or by U.S. nationals abroad. The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to investigate such acts wherever they occur.” Executive Assistant Director Arthur M. Cummings, II, FBI National Security Division
It’s easy to be outraged by Taylor and his crimes, but where is the outrage when our own government officials are involved in torture? Where are the prosecutions?
Granted, some of Taylor’s torture methods were even worse than what has been alleged at Gitmo and elsewhere. But the fact some torture may be less excruciatingly painful or less psychologically damaging does not excuse using it, nor should that be an excuse to bar prosecution of those who commit torture.
We don’t do torture – unless it works
Bush and other administration officials insisted “we don’t do torture”; we use “enhanced interrogation techniques”. What do you call it when you replace a two-syllable word with a nine-syllable phrase? Euphemism is nice, but lie is more precise.
The “we don’t do torture” claim was an obvious lie because some of those “enhanced interrogation techniques” were derived from the SERE program, a program intended to use torture – including water-boarding – to make our soldiers more resistant to torture. Yet administration officials insisted “we don’t water-board”, and when that proved to be a lie, they argued “water-boarding isn’t torture”. One thing’s for sure; the Bush administration tortured logic.
The master of tortured logic is Dick Cheney, who insists we ought to continue to do what we didn’t do because it “kept us safe”. Sorry, Dick, but you can’t claim to have not done something and take credit for doing it. Correction; if you’re Dick Cheney, you can claim anything you damned well please – WMD, Saddam/Al Queda Connection, Vice-Presidential Infallibility.
President or precedent – the choice is ours
Comparing Chuckie Taylor and Dick Cheney may offend some. To anyone so offended, I pose this question: Which man's perfidy caused more death and destruction?
But weighing which of these evils is worse is not the point. The point is the only legal distinction between Taylor’s case and a case against Bush administration officials is that President Bush gave his blessing to one set of crimes and not the other.
But regardless of the tortured legal opinions of White House lawyers David Addington, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the President is not above the law any more than his co-conspirators. In clear violation of the law, the White House insisted on torture, and the legal “reasoning” used to excuse it would embarrass any first-year law student. Should the torture memos ever end up in court, they would be laughed out.
Clearly, the Chuckie Taylor case has set a precedent, one that ought to strike fear in the heart of anyone in the Bush administration who was involved in authorizing torture. Some believe the statute of limitations will save them, but they are wrong. The ongoing conspiracy did not end until January 20, 2009, leaving eight more years to prosecute. And if anyone died as a result of torture, there is no statue of limitations.
The only thing that can keep these torturers from being brought to justice is the apathy of the American people – and the last eight years should have taught us where apathy leads.
©2009 Tom Cordle