President Obama, Meet President Reagan
Published: May 20th, 2009
By: Nat Hentoff

President Obama is strongly disinclined to support an independent investigation of possible criminal violations of U.S. laws and international treaties by the highest levels of the Bush-Cheney administration. He also has no personal interest in going after those Justice Department lawyers who, in 2002 and later, declared “enhanced interrogation techniques” lawful. Says Obama: “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

In a sardonic response to the president and to those “torture memos” lawyers, Dahlia Lithwick, legal affairs columnist for Slate (April 17), says those lawyers tell us that “it isn’t torture if you can get over it.”

More somberly, Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, says plainly: “Our government engages in torture. There were vast human rights abuses that took place during the Bush administration. And we’re just moving on?”

It’s time to bring President Ronald Reagan into this increasingly heated debate – not only in this country but also among some of our allies who believe, as does our Senate Armed Services Committee, that U.S. torture policy was an effective recruiting tool for the terrorists.

International lawyer Scott Horton – on his Harper’s magazine Web site, “No comment” (May 6), recalls that Reagan vigorously championed U.S. ratification of the international Convention Against Torture, which he signed in 1988. This treaty is the primary international foundation of anti-torture law, and Reagan acclaimed its having marked “a significant step in the development ... of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment.

“Ratification of the Convention by the United States,” Reagan continued, “will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately prevalent in the world today.”

And, I remind Obama, Reagan cited the Convention’s establishment of an agreement “for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of tortures (by) relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction,’” requiring each nation signing the Convention “to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.” This includes officials who authorized torture.

As I write this, Spain, under “universal jurisdiction,” has begun criminal proceedings against six high-level officials in the Bush administration – among them “torture memos” writers John Yoo and Jay Bybee – for involvement in the use of torture in our prison in Guantanamo Bay.

The only way for Spain to stop this prosecution is if there is a similar process actually under way in the United States. That is Spanish law. But Obama would still rather look forward than backward.

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