"When a distinguished American military commander accuses the United States of committing war crimes in its handling of detainees, you know that we need a new way forward," writes op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof in the Sunday edition of The New York Times.
Specifically, Kristof argues that "we need a national Truth Commission to lead a process of soul searching and national cleansing."
This report tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individuals’ lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors....
After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.
What kinds of abuses occurred?
It’s a national disgrace that more than 100 inmates have died in American custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo. After two Afghan inmates were beaten to death by American soldiers, the American military investigator found that one of the men’s legs had been "pulpified."
Moreover, many of the people we tortured were innocent: the administration was as incompetent as it was immoral. The McClatchy newspaper group has just published a devastating series on torture and other abuses, and it quotes Thomas White, the former Army secretary, as saying that it was clear from the moment Guantánamo opened that one-third of the inmates didn’t belong there.
How were such abuses allowed to occur? Kristoff lays blame not only on the corrupt, secretive, incompetent Bush administration, but also at the feet of weak-kneed Democratic party operatives and media lap dogs:
These abuses happened partly because, for several years after 9/11, many of our national institutions didn’t do their jobs. The Democratic Party rolled over rather than serving as loyal opposition. We in the press were often lap dogs rather than watchdogs, and we let the public down.
Yet there were heroes, including civil liberties groups and lawyers for detainees. Some judges bucked the mood, and a few conservatives inside the administration spoke out forcefully. The Times’s Eric Lichtblau writes in his terrific new book, "Bush’s Law," that the Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner, James Ziglar, pushed back against plans for door-to-door sweeps of Arab-American neighborhoods.
Another hero, of course, is retired Major General Taguba, who was forced into retirement because he told the truth about what he found at Abu Ghraib. The Honolulu Advertiser has taken note of that fact. The Advertiser could be considered Taguba's hometown newspaper: his family moved to Oahu when he was 11.
Recently, Advertiser columnist William Cole profiled Taguba:
Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a Leilehua High School graduate who has family on O'ahu, didn't mince words in 2004 when he led the investigation into detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Taguba, who was born in the Philippines, was the second Filipino-American to become a general. He was known in the military as a straight shooter and standup guy.
Four years later and retired from the Army, Taguba, who is vice president for Army and joint programs at Serco Inc. in Virginia, has sharpened his attack on detainee abuse, saying the Bush administration is guilty of war crimes.....
His father, Tomas, served in the Philippines Scouts under the U.S. Army in 1942. The family came to Hawai'i when Antonio Taguba was 11.
Contacted by e-mail, "Tony" Taguba said thank you, but "I don't do interviews on this issue."
But he added, "I hope the media will (go) after those who were intimately responsible for creating this situation while disregarding the rules of law."
Taguba, a true hero, is counting on the media to go after those responsible. And some in the media, Nicholas Kristof and Bob Herbert among them, are acting more and more like real watchdogs on the issues of U.S. torture, truth-telling, and accountability for war crimes.
"We saw the hideous photos from Abu Ghraib. And now the Nobel Prize-winning organization Physicians for Human Rights has released a report, called "Broken Laws, Broken Lives," that puts an appropriately horrifying face on a practice that is so fundamentally evil that it cannot co-exist with the idea of a just and humane society.
The report profiles 11 detainees who were tortured while in U.S. custody and then released — their lives ruined — without ever having been charged with a crime or told why they were detained. All of the prisoners were men, and all were badly beaten. One was sodomized with a broomstick, the report said, and forced by his interrogators to howl like a dog while a soldier urinated on him.
He fainted, the report said, "after a soldier stepped on his genitals."....
The most effective element of the report is the way in which it takes torture out of the realm of the abstract to show not just the horror and cruelty of the torture itself, but the way in which it absolutely devastates the body, soul and psyche of its victims.
Maybe, as Taguba hopes, the media will act less like lap dogs and increasingly more like watchdogs on the issue of war crimes.
But you know and I know that the netroots need to keep the pressure on. (H/T to MeteorBlades, for being the first to blog about PHR's Broken Laws, Broken Lives report, and for leading his essay with the key "war crimes" quote from Taguba.) If you agree with Taguba that the only question is whether those who ordered to use of torture will be held to account, then please visit http://brokenlives.info and sign PHR's petition calling on the U.S. government to:
* fully investigate and hold accountable those who ordered torture;
* issue an official apology to survivors of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay;
* and make reparation, including compensation and medical and psycho-social services.