Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
April 28, 2017 Disclaimer: Please read.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.

Truthdig Bazaar
Dateline Havana

Dateline Havana

By Reese Erlich

more items

Email this item Print this item

Torture Is a Crime, and Crimes Demand Prosecution

Posted on Apr 23, 2009

By Eugene Robinson

    The many roads of inquiry into the Bush administration’s abusive “interrogation techniques” all lead to one stubborn, inconvenient fact: Torture is not just immoral, but also illegal. This means that once we learn the whole truth, the law will oblige us to act on it.

    Understandably, the Obama administration wants to avoid getting bogged down in a long, wrenching legal drama that almost certainly would be partisan and divisive. But I’m not sure it’s possible to skirt the criminal implications of what we already know, let alone what we might find out in a full-scale “truth commission” investigation with access to all relevant witnesses and documents. 

    On the moral question, the administration has been straightforward and righteous. One of President Obama’s first acts was to declare that the United States will no longer practice waterboarding or other abusive interrogation methods, saying that such depredations are inimical to our nation’s values and traditions. Attorney General Eric Holder stated at his confirmation hearings that “waterboarding is torture.” This refreshing and admirable clarity stands in stark contrast to the fog of legalistic sophistry in which the Bush administration cloaked its secret prisons.

    On the legal question, though, the Obama team has been far less definitive. This is what Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, told his staff about the interrogation abuses in a memo last week: “I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given.”

    To state the obvious, this makes no sense at all. If Blair would not have sanctioned “those methods”—some of which clearly meet the legal definition of torture, in my view—then why would he give a pass to those who ordered the abuses and those who carried them out?


Square, Site wide
    At least Blair, charged with leading the agents who performed the abuses, has a reason for going all fuzzy on the matter of accountability. And we can thank him for definitively refuting the most commonly cited pro-torture argument: that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions and other abuses were necessary to obtain vital information that kept Americans safe from another al-Qaida attack.

    “High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used,” Blair wrote in the memo. But in a separate statement, he added that “there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.”

    This should be obvious. Yes, people break under torture and tell what they know, along with what they don’t know and what they think their torturers want to hear. But there is no way to be certain that the valuable information wouldn’t have been extracted through traditional—and legal—methods of interrogation.

    Even if experts have differing views about torture’s effectiveness, there is one point on which they cannot disagree: It violates U.S. and international law.

    What abuses legally qualify as torture? That probably depends on which of several possibly applicable legal standards is applied. At a bare minimum, though, it seems clear to me that waterboarding will almost certainly be deemed illegal if put under judicial scrutiny. The practice has been considered torture at least since the Spanish Inquisition—except, apparently, in the Office of Legal Counsel under George W. Bush.

    I don’t know what more we’ll find out if a blue-ribbon investigative panel of some kind is formed. But what we already know is enough to ensure that sooner or later the abusive interrogation methods authorized by Bush, Dick Cheney and other officials are going to be measured against the law. Our system, left to its own devices, is not designed to let illegal acts be revealed and then ignored.

    From the viewpoint of the Obama administration, the alternatives may be unattractive or even unacceptable. No one wants to see low-ranking CIA interrogators go down for doing what their superiors told them was legal, especially if the superiors are not held to account. But pursuing criminal charges against the highest-ranking officials of the previous administration would be unprecedented, and it is unclear where such a process might lead. 

    It will be hard to stop this train, though. The rule of law is one of this nation’s founding principles. It’s not optional. Our laws against torture demand to be obeyed—and demand to be enforced.
    Eugene Robinson is the 2009 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. His e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
    © 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

Lockerdome Below Article
Get a book from one of our contributors in the Truthdig Bazaar.

Related Entries

Get truth delivered to
your inbox every day.

New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Join the conversation

Load Comments
Tony Wicher's avatar

By Tony Wicher, May 1, 2009 at 1:13 pm Link to this comment

It is mostly the left wing of the Democratic party that is insisting on prosecution for torture. Illegal or not, most of the American public does not care if KSM or Zubaydah were tortured. Obama knows this, so he is not going to expend a lot of political capital on it. 

However, the public would care a lot if they thought the same people who authorized torture were also complicit in 9/11. How do we get from investigating torture to investigating 9/11? That’s the question.

“Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe”

Full paper in Open Chemical Physics journal available at:

Read it for yourself.

Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth

Report this

By Folktruther, April 30, 2009 at 9:36 pm Link to this comment

Inherit- to you anyone is a marxist who dissents from Alice Rosenbaum.  Both Sartre and his companion were independant leftists, his companion kickstarting feminism.  But you’re closer than you usually are in your wild foreys into truth, since they often allied with the french communist party.

Report this

By Inherit The Wind, April 27, 2009 at 7:54 pm Link to this comment

Folktruther, April 26 at 11:33 pm #

Inherit-Foosh.  And Sartrian?  I am as in favor of neologisms as anyone but Sartrian….?

You should love Sartre. After all, he ended his life a committed Marxist.

Report this

By mandinka, April 27, 2009 at 2:15 pm Link to this comment

Hey if the AG wants to investigate he needs to start with the Chicago gang and then he’s free to look into Bush and Cheny. I noticed that the investigation of Ruzika has had no buzz since Nov wonder why??

Report this

By davr, April 27, 2009 at 2:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Bush and Cheney ordered the torture.  They have to be tried and punished for torturing and killing people.

Report this

By Folktruther, April 26, 2009 at 8:33 pm Link to this comment

Inherit-Foosh.  And Sartrian?  I am as in favor of neologisms as anyone but Sartrian….?

Report this

By Inherit The Wind, April 26, 2009 at 7:53 pm Link to this comment

Robinson is wrong.

I think Obama is simply providing political cover for his administration to claim it’s not after Botch’s team as retribution.  Then, when Holder gets digging, Obama has to say “Oh, I can’t interfere with an ongoing investigation.”

Simple and brilliant.  On the record as against prosecution then forced, when the investigation happens, to be hands-off.

Report this

By Inherit The Wind, April 26, 2009 at 7:24 pm Link to this comment

A Sartrian “No Exit” for Mandinka and Folktruther:  Locked in a room with each other for eternity.

Report this

By Folktruther, April 26, 2009 at 12:22 pm Link to this comment

The barbarism of truthers like mandinka is not the first enemy of common decency.  The first emeny is the Dem cheerleaders who are sanitizing this barbarism for Progressives.  This mainstream duplicity, opposing torture while supporting the Dem leaders that implement it, must clearly and firmly oppposed FIRST, to unite the population to effective oppose the unapoligetic bloodthirstiness of American power.

It is not possible to eliminate torture practiced by the Gops while operatively defending torture practiced by the Dems. It is necessary to critize the Dems because they are softly supporting torture, just as the Gops cricize them for not supporting it more widely.

Report this

By mandinka, April 26, 2009 at 10:13 am Link to this comment

Kurth, do no harm hmmmmm??? Lets see we murder 1 million babies every year guess by your definataion putting someone in a box with a catipiller is worse. But then you are a neo communist so the end justifies the means as long as they can’t fight back

Report this

By mandinka, April 25, 2009 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment

dear felicity, if you read any polls on the subject the american public could care less about the topic. as long as the sneak attacks have stopped who cares what happened to those who took up arms. we owe them NOTHING period. look how many that have been released from gitmo have gone on to commit suicide bombings or attack us in Afghanistan.
Shinning example no i would term it a sucker to those who mean us harm.  one only has to look how muslims were handled in the philippines years ago. to stop the on going attacks pigs were buried with those who were killed. no 70 virgins for them and the nonsense stopped

Report this

By felicity, April 25, 2009 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

mandinka - I hope that your views are not those of the majority of the American people because if they are we have lost yet another of the principles which through the ages has made the rest of the world see us a city shining on a hill.

Report this

By mandinka, April 25, 2009 at 1:06 pm Link to this comment

foster again you over reach. The red Cross has been allowed to visit “Prisoners of WAR” its a distinction that liberals have a problem. Enemy combatants that wear no uniform or fight for no recognized military are not and have never been covered under the Geneva Convention.
That’s why I say read a real newspaper or and unbiased TV or radio broadcast BBC would be a start other than the nonsense that you currently use for your information.

Report this

By BigEasy, April 24, 2009 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The law is NOT obliged to prosecute torture. Or anything else for that matter. The ‘law’ has been doing what it wants to do for at least a hundred years and will continue to do just that. Obamas’ putting his legacy ahead of the law is proof positive. And why should this derail congress at all? What on earth does this actually have to do with congress anyway? Let congress work and pursue Bush & Co. Hang ‘em high if it comes to that. Who cares anymore?

Report this

By A. Z. Arrow, April 24, 2009 at 6:13 pm Link to this comment

Torture is a national disgrace, it is also illegal: The Nuremberg defense will not do -“I was only following orders.” Well, who gave these orders? Who authorized the use of torture? The law requires that those who colluded with these crimes be investigate, charged, brought to trail, and, if found guilty, sentenced—CIA operatives, private contractors, and Bush administration officials included. There is no debate on this. Torture is a violation of the Geneva Convention that the United States Government initiated, help draft, and signed, along with other nations, on the dotted line. The US has imposed compliance with Geneva in its’ treaties and military alliances with other nations. Further, United States law makes it obligatory that Eric Holder bring charges against those responsible for the crime of torture. If Holder and/or Obama do not comply with these laws then they are engaged in a cover-up.

~A.Z. Arrow
>April 24,2009

Report this

By A. Z. Arrow, April 24, 2009 at 6:08 pm Link to this comment

Torture is a national disgrace, it is also illegal: The Nuremberg defense will not do -“I was only following orders.” Well, who gave these orders? Who authorized the use of torture? The law requires that those who colluded with these crimes be investigate, charged, brought to trail, and, if found guilty, sentenced—CIA operatives, private contractors, and Bush administration officials included. There is no debate on this. Torture is a violation of the Geneva Convention that the United States Government initiated, help draft, and signed, along with other nations, on the dotted line. The US has imposed compliance with Geneva in its’ treaties and military alliances with other nations. Further, United States law makes it obligatory that Eric Holder bring charges against those responsible for the crime of torture. If Holder and/or Obama do not comply with these laws then they are engaged in a cover-up.

> A. Z. Arrow
April 24.2009

Report this

By JNagarya, April 24, 2009 at 5:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“By mandinka, April 24 at 2:22 pm #

“Ohhh stop this is nothing but pure PAP. Putting a bug in a crate, making people stand up having dogs in interrogation rooms.. NONE of this is Torture.”

When will you be volunteering to PROVE that speculation true?

Report this

By JFoster2k, April 24, 2009 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment


What news do you recommend I watch? Fox? That’s not news, but for what it’s worth, I watch it in addition to C-SPAN, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, etc.

“We agreed to accept the Red Cross’s assessment, really when??”

The Geneva Convention of 1864. Three other conventions were later added to the first, extending protection to victims of naval warfare, to prisoners of war, and to civilians. Revisions of these conventions have been made from time to time, the most extensive being that of 1949.

Report this

By mandinka, April 24, 2009 at 1:13 pm Link to this comment

jfoster standard liberal bias and to answer you question I have been water boarded as part of my military training. We agreed to accept the Red Cross’s assessment, really when?? Before you post read a paper and stop watching katie kurik for your news it shows how gullible you are

Report this

By JFoster2k, April 24, 2009 at 1:09 pm Link to this comment


Have you ever been waterboarded? If not, you need to STFU about it. The International Red Cross has stated clearly that it is torture. We have agreed to accept their assessment, so that issue is resolved. Waterboarding IS torture.


You spuriously (and repeatedly) claim Obama is continuing the Bush torture methods. What is your source?

Report this

By felicity, April 24, 2009 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment

When Gerald Ford pardonned Nixon he told us that ‘our long nightmare was over.’  Well, it may have been a long nightmare for Beltway insiders but for the American people it was a dream come true - Nixon on the block for his illegal acts.

Bush etal - and I suspect there are a lot of ‘etals’ not excluding some members of Congress - must go through the same process any other American must go through when suspected of breaking a law.

Frankly, the country needs a catalyst, a bloodless revolution if you will, to clean out the Augean Stables of government that have been filling up with shit for at least 30 years and a public trial of the miscreants who ordered, aided and abetted the torturing of detainees just may be, and I suspect it will be, the tip of a very ugly iceberg.

Report this

By mandinka, April 24, 2009 at 11:22 am Link to this comment

Ohhh stop this is nothing but pure PAP. Putting a bug in a crate, making people stand up having dogs in interrogation rooms.. NONE of this is Torture. Going to college and listening to sociology and psychology teachers moan on and on about social nonsense now that’s TORTURE. Reading the wash post or NY times now that’s torture. Attending school in Feb and listening to Black History non accomplishments now that’s torture

Report this

By Folktruther, April 24, 2009 at 11:19 am Link to this comment

Astonishing the arguments that the Obama cheerleaders make to continue torture.  Which is what Obama is doing, under different rhetoric and different techniques.  He is continuing Bush’s policies so he cannot prosecute past promotion of them.  Which he will not do under the grounds that it is devisive.  He needs torture to pursue the War on Terrorsm, which he has also abolished along with torture (America does not torture, as both Bush and Obama state.)

Robinson says the the Rule of Law is one of nations founding principles.  But that is only for rhetorical purposes and to teach schooldhildren.  In practice the law is meant only for the powerless, not the powerful.

Report this
tropicgirl's avatar

By tropicgirl, April 24, 2009 at 11:14 am Link to this comment

I agree, but Eugene, where were you when? You might have made a difference

If I were a CIA employee, I would be VERY afraid and would GET MYSELF A LAWYER now. We will eventually get all their names, you can mark my word on that.

Obama and the politicians have NO SAY over this. If they try to stop it, THEY ARE COMING VERY CLOSE TO BEING INCRIMINATED ALSO. Especially since they WON"T be able to stop it. Think twice Obama.

And, if the torture is still going on, which by many reports it IS, then I don’t see why we don’t prosecute Obama also.

The law is VERY CLEAR. If you know about it and had an opportunity to stop it and didn’t, then you are JUST as responsible as those who did it. That’s why the house and senate intelligence committees are also culpable. The law is CRYSTAL CLEAR.

Report this

By SamSnedegar, April 24, 2009 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

Oh yes, Obama is a bee-esser, but so is Robinson, and so are we all, all who participated in the Bush-Cheney war for oil . . . you see, we COVETed the oil beneath the Mespotamian sand, we LIED ourselves into a war so we could go STEAL that oil, and in the process we had to KILL a number of people including about five thousand or so of our own, never mind the wounding and making worthless the lives of the survivors.

Get something straight: if you ADMIT what we did, then the mere breaking of treaties and international rules is child’s play by comparison with the utter SIN of what we did to a whole country, which incidentally had no terrorists before our arrival, and then had many, many of them, INCLUDING us.

So why blame the Bushies for a little bit of torture when we ALL are guilty of monumental sins of a far greater magnitude?

Report this

By Louise, April 24, 2009 at 8:39 am Link to this comment

Back when the International Red Cross first released reports and photo’s documenting torture in Iraqs Abu Ghraib prison, the majority of citizens ignored, or simply didn’t hear the truth. And from the administration came denial. And from mainstreammedia came their brand of “normal” reporting; A few reports on the awful truth “balanced” by a few hundred reports from the ideolouges on the right. Eventually Congress held hearings, came to findings, passed laws, and the many who never pay attention were satisfied, while the few who always pay attention were enraged and frustrated. The greatest frustration being that no matter what was learned, the “official” White House double-speak became justification enough.

Point being: Only when the citizenry are literally drowning in negative information can we hope to see this cancer treated and removed from our national soul. Charge, prove, try, find and punish. That’s how it has to work. And just like back when Nixon was waving his “v” and stating his “moral” clarity, only when the entire public was swimming in negative information did Congress finally do something. Not because of their moral clarity, but because the nation demanded it!

Information documenting torture in prisons and on military bases in Iraq. Information documenting torture in so-called black sites across the world. Information documenting everything that happened under Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush! Information documenting their decision to torture in Gitmo long before their attack on Iraq.

Long before we first learned of it. Long before we even understood “terrorism”. Information that documents the motive for torture, the need to “create” a connection between Saddam and 9/11. And more than that, the need to document at some point in time, torture became the norm. Torture for the sake of torture.

For that reason I think, at this point in time appointing a “Truth Commission” or an “Independent Investigator”, is the worst thing we could do! That will only silence the flood of information. Slam the lid on the public being inundated with the awful truth! I think Obama’s decision to release these memos, photo’s and findings to the public is the best thing Obama can do. And I hope they keep coming. Keep coming until the flood-gates are opened. Keep coming until there can be not one single citizen who doesn’t know the truth. Keep coming until by the very force of numbers, “charge, prove, try, find and punish,” becomes a reality.

Just three weeks ago I received an angry response from a “conservative” acquaintance, when I said, among other things, I was happy to see Bush go because I don’t approve of torture. Came the response ... Bush never tortured! We don’t torture! It was just a few “bad apples” and other similar disinformation based on a lack of factual information. I suppose he has never since turned on his TV, or read a newspaper. But all the same, at some point in time the information will be so out there, so overwhelming, so undeniable, that even he will be shamed and angry enough to demand action followed by accountability, followed by punishment!

So let the memo’s flow. Let the proof be published. Let the horror of it all sink deep into our collective consciousness. Keep it coming, and coming. Lord knows there is so much. Then finally when the great majority screams in outrage, the Justice Department will do the only thing they can do. And no matter what Obama says, or has said we will see justice!

There is a powerful lesson to be learned here. That justice comes only when the people demand it. That a single president or person can not do it for us. That we the people alone have the power to bring this horror to the docket. And when we finally reach that point where a great majority demand it happen, it will happen! Obama knows that. Telling us so will never change anything, but the decision to put it in our face, force us to action will!

Report this

By Rich Kurth, April 24, 2009 at 8:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Our country’s legal and moral position is anchored in the most fundamental, axiomatic tenets of a civil and just society: do no harm and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I understand Obama’s desire to attend to the many crises we are facing unfettered by all this dark and messy torture business. But there will be no “moving forward” without following due process of law, no matter how emotionally charged and divisive it may seem to be. The crime of not doing so would trump even torture.

Report this

By JFoster2k, April 24, 2009 at 8:33 am Link to this comment

Thanks Eugene!
(congratz on your Pulitzer)

Finally, someone is addressing the heart of the matter. We are a nation of laws. Breaking the law must have consequences.

When viewed from a legal perspective the issue is simple. Torture is illegal. Waterboarding is torture. We used waterboarding.

Whomever is responsible must be held to account.

Report this

By Eugen, April 24, 2009 at 8:21 am Link to this comment

Wake up people. What is a more severe crime, murder or torture? I would say murder is. Reagan, both Bushes and Clinton all murdered people on a whim. They ordered the launch of aircraft and missiles against countries we were not at war with. How do you differentiate ordering a missile strike against people who are just doing there job and a drive by shooting? They are just people and they wind up suffering because the leaders don’t agree. Clinton was credited with 35 deaths and I don’t know how many the Bushes killed. Before we deal with the torturers who may have saved many American lives let’s take care of the murderers first. We should turn them over to the UN along with the Admirals and Generals. You think I’m joking? We just sent an 89 year old man to Germany on suspicion that he was a guard at a prison camp. Just because they are Presidents don’t give them the right to fire off a bunch of missiles and kill people. Presidents are not immune. Admirals and Generals are responsible to carry out legal orders. They are responsible to say no when the orders are not legal. That is why they arrested John Demjanjuk.

Report this
Purple Girl's avatar

By Purple Girl, April 24, 2009 at 4:50 am Link to this comment

Tortured Martydom is a better ‘Glory Story’.Who thought that Torture would render any real useful informatione esp on those of ‘high rank’. These men not only had their hatred of the US and their Religious conviction, but also the ambition to inspire those in the future. Those three things constitute a strong resolve to remain silent- or give false information.
Why would the next ‘Target’ have been the LA Library? If looking fo rnot only a Tall Building, but a symbolic building on th eWest coast..Why not The TransAmerican Building in SF or the Space needle in Seattle? Not only tall, in highly populated cities, but also far more Symbolic.As for the TA Building it also was a center of Finance like the WTC.
To target a Library was Uncharacteristic of AQ. Their targets were more poignant to the Military industrial Complex- WTC,Pentagon and WH?. Why go for such a irrelevant ‘soft’Target. In fact if AQ was truely out to Terrify Americans, they would have begun their attacks solely on soft targets- Reflections of our conspicuous consumption, or Godlessness- like the Mall of America or DisneyWorld.
The Bushies like to claim these methods kept US safe, yet there were not attacks in Canada or Mexico. Are they claiming they kept them safe too? If so why such miserable failure in Europe and Africa? Didn’t they bother to interrogate these prisoners about plots in other countries too.
As for keeping US safe this claim is laughable when even armed with the most advanced, reliable ‘intell’the People of NOLA were not spared from the devastating effects of a Natural disaster- Homeland security failed to keep US safe from those type of well foreseen catastrophic events.
Considering Paulson had written a ‘death threat Ransom note’ 6 months prior to the Wall street Melddown- again well foreseen- No steps were taken to protect US then either.The ripple effects of 9/11 Pale in comparison to the wide spread and monumental aftershocks of our economic collapse.So No they did not keep US safer, nor any of our Global neighbors.
What Truley alarms me is Cheney’s insistence tha tmore memos be released regarding the torture at Gitmo & abu Ghraib, What is he hoping to obscure? We have yet to learn more about those prisoners taken to those ‘Black Sites’ in other countries. We have yet to discover WHO was on those Cheney hit squad lists. What eles have we yet to discover about the Regime of Geroge the W which may be far more heinous and Wide spread than Waterboarding.
Cheney Rummy and Wolfie have become Masters of distraction, I fear that these memos will aid them in yet another cover up of the more egregious and insideous criminal activities they were committing.
Beware of shiny object that cause blind rage- they are perfect cover to lure you in to the ‘hook’.

Report this
Tony Wicher's avatar

By Tony Wicher, April 24, 2009 at 1:17 am Link to this comment


Watch what Obama does, not what he says. He might have SAID he isn’t interested in prosecuting, but what he DID was release those memos, thus setting in motion a process that he does not have to appear to be leading - he can even seem to be trying to stop it, but public outrage will force his hand. Some people think he has lost control. I say things are going exactly according to plan.

Report this

By drwaz, April 24, 2009 at 12:03 am Link to this comment

Obama is nothing more and nothing less than a bullshitter. The consummate politician who refines ways to lie, like all of the others.He has reneged on just about all of the MAJOR issues that got him elected by a mesmerized electorate.

How can a man of the people oppose the prosecution of torturers, who did what they did in the name of people like me? How? He’s controlled by the powers that be. He bowed to AIPAC, to Wall Street and now to the horrific crimes of the Bush Death Regime.

On the bright side, his shell game won’t work and his bullshit will soon hit the fan.

Report this
Right Top, Site wide - Care2
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right Internal Skyscraper, Site wide

Like Truthdig on Facebook