In my conversations with politicians, reporters, columnists, celebrities (those who process thought, not wallow in lip gloss), and so forth from around the world, regardless of any of their other views there is something we all seem to agree on: Torture is bad, war crimes are bad, and everyone involved should be held accountable.
In my recent conversation with controversial neoconservative Michael Ledeen, who currently holds the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the topic of torture came up; naturally or perhaps pushed by me, regardless it came up.
No one can for a moment call AEI liberal. It is a bathing pool for Bush and Cheney followers - all swimming with insatiable power-lust toward war and chaos- and regularly hosts high profile guests like the hardly liberal Justice Anton Scalia.
Ledeen and I spoke of many things, which prompted the conversation to become a series of three separate interviews, as opposed to a dense and far too long single transcript. Despite our many differences, and there are those, including what "freedom" means and why the right seems to discount cultural relativism, we agree on holding accountable those involved in war crimes and detainee abuse/torture.
We do disagree on there being enough evidence to hold the leadership of this country accountable. I say there is more than enough - memos, footage, and the well known and hard core lobbying of the White House to stop the passage of anti-torture legislation - to hold the President, Vice President, and down the chain of command guilty of war crimes.
Ledeen says he has not seen enough where Dick Cheney and George Bush can be directly tied to these horrors. Again, on this point we disagree because, short of footage filmed by Karl Rove and confirmed by Scooter Libby showing Cheney attaching electrodes to the testicles of POWs himself, there is not much more needed to make a case in the world court.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld still cannot land in Germany without fear of being hauled off to prison. Various national citizen tribunals, including ones in Tokyo and Turkey, have found this administration guilty of war crimes already, and that was before John Yoo - the braniac who thinks the President can crush the testicles of children should he wish to - became a common household legal apologist for human rights abuse and a cheerleader for violating international and domestic law.
Incidentally, the university (you know who you are) that now gives him a landing strip from which to teach young legal minds on how to bypass international and domestic law might need to explain their hiring practices.
But back to the crimes made possible by the legal whorishness of such wunderkinds as Yoo (not "you" of course) and his ilk.
This part of my conversation with Ledeen is important for many reasons, not the least of them being a foreign policy not driven by anyone other than Halliburton and Bechtel, as apparent from the many neoconservatives now jumping ship in large numbers.
Even the scholars who helped shape this foreign policy find what Cheney and friends have done with it nothing short of appalling. Agree with the policy or not, agree or disagree on a whole slew of issues or not, but there is no room for disagreement on war crimes for those with a conscience and a soul.
note: links in the original are not included here to save space (okay, and my time).
"RS: I agree that a systematic processing of such precision in order to exterminate a group of people is entirely unique to the Holocaust. As a Jew, I understand this quite well, but you say that American sadists are not close to the evil of the Third Reich. Yet the Third Reich came to power because and only because the West allowed the financing of the regime. In other words, the "sadists" in the US and Britain funded the "sadists" in Germany.
ML: I reject the theory that Hitler came to power "because and only because the West allowed the financing of the regime." Hitler came to power because most Germans wanted it. They loved it when they got it, and they fought and died for it. To reduce a horror of such dimensions to mere cash flow is unworthy of a serious person.
RS: I understand your sentiment, but with all due respect, I disagree with the notion that a nation of people wanted this or asked for it. Some may want such a thing, but not a nation of people. You are excluding the systematic fear tactics, propaganda of hate, and other control mechanisms that over a period of time convinced an entire people that they were under constant threat by a whole other group of people.
The Holocaust did not occur overnight and in a vacuum. It started as a fire that was blamed on the terrorists, at that time "the Communists." Anyone who spoke out was branded as an enemy and jailed. Those who did not speak out were fed large doses of psychological manipulation. The horror of the Final Solution did not start with the installment of Hitler to power. The Jews did not become the object of Hitler's insanity until later, much later.
But how was this propaganda machine possible and to such an extent? How was the war machine possible or the facilities for what would later be used as extermination centers, or any number of things required to achieve such a horrible end? The Germans were still paying reparations from WWI and were largely bankrupt. If it were not for the funding made possible by US and British companies, like DuPont or Ford Motors, would the Nazis have been able to rise to power and achieve what they had achieved?
ML: I don't like the behavior of American corporations any more than you, but I think that Joseph Kennedy did more damage than DuPont. And I'm quite happy that so many corporations have been compelled to pay significant funds to the survivors.
RS: What about accountability? The Third Reich continued to be funded by US "free trade" interests, thanks to companies even after the United States entered the war. So again, we are back full circle, where the "tool" of its handler is the evil thing, but the handler is not.
When we see such funding again, over and over and all over the world, we are seeing a stunning failure of humanity to punish the handler of the tool as well as the tool itself, do we not?
Ford Motors and General Motors, whose subsidiaries became engines of the German war machine, were not held to account, and neither was DuPont. If they had been, would they be in a position, such as in Ford's case (later sued for involvement in Argentinian abuse), to go on to commit such crimes again?
What about Halliburton? The company does business with nations that have long harbored extremism and terrorists, such as Libya, and even currently with Iran, one of the members of the so-called Axis of Evil. Despite this and the appearance of impropriety in the Vice President's being the firm's former chief executive, the company continues to be awarded no-bid contracts and overcharge the US government. Would they be engaged in such behavior if their predecessors were held accountable?
ML: If they are guilty, I'm all for holding them accountable, but, alas, I don't think it would deter evil people from doing evil things today or tomorrow. I'm afraid that the struggle against evil is probably endless.
RS: We now know from various memos (see newest from the New Yorker) leaked to the public that there is a policy pushed by the Vice President's office and the Vice President himself, including his staff and civilian members of the Pentagon like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, which lays out that harsh interrogation practices should be used by our military. The policies were legally justified by attorneys John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales [now US Attorney General].
Who should be held accountable for violating the Geneva Conventions and for committing war crimes, the soldiers following orders, or the officials setting that policy, or the attorneys who made it somehow legal?
ML: We've been through this several times now. Punish all the guilty parties, whoever they are, and do everything possible to prevent anything of the sort happening again.
RS: Including Dick Cheney and George W. Bush?
ML: No exceptions. But I haven't seen anything that convinces me they should be prosecuted.
RS: What about mass media and corporate bosses who kept the coverage of such things to a minimum? Are they guilty? Are members of Congress guilty, who align with their leader and party but not the law? What about you, and me, and every citizen of this country who is financing these crimes?
ML: There are well established legal standards as far as prosecution is concerned. On the big question, which is the moral one, there's the 'court of public opinion,' and you and I will do our best to identify sins of commission and omission, and try to convince our peers that we are right. If you're going to attack media for insufficient coverage of Abu Ghraib, etc. (which I think would be a real exaggeration; there's been enormous coverage), then you should also hammer them for failing to report the 'other side of the story,' namely the many excellent things that are going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bloggers have done much better, from Steve Vincent to Michael Yon and others, especially the Iraqi bloggers.
RS: Who can hold them accountable? Israel cannot hold the US accountable because Israel does depend greatly on financing from the US. Britain cannot hold the US accountable because they are the "ally." So on whom does this task fall it when Geneva Conventions are no longer recognized by the world's only super power?
ML: We have to identify and prosecute our own criminals.
RS: How, if our political leaders align with their party and the leader of that party? Who will be able to hold anyone accountable now?
ML: Just as we always have, by speaking and writing what we believe in, challenging lies when we think we see them, and appealing to mankind's better instincts. But again, one has to have a sense of history and context. For the most part, it takes a considerable passage of time before we get a full sense of what actually happened. Lots of innocents get slimed and ruined in the meantime, while rotten people get medals. Marc Anthony's funeral oration for Caesar, as reported by Shakespeare."
Read the full transcript of part HERE
Do we need a full passage of time or do we have enough evidence now?