War Crimes


There cannot be an absence of moral content in American foreign policy. Europeans giggle at this, but we are not European, we are American, and we have different principles. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Telegraph, London, February 5, 2005

It shall be the policy of the United States not to expel, extradite, or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture . . .Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, a U.S. statute implementing Article 3, International Convention Against Torture, which this country has signed

For three years, there have been sporadic reports in some of the media, including this column, of the CIA’s sending detainees (prisoners without charges or lawyers) to countries (among them are Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco, and Uzbekistan) where the CIA knows they will be tortured to extract information the CIA can’t dig out of them.

The Washington Post has done the most revealing investigative reporting, along with furious editorials, on this brutal form of kidnapping. And in these columns, I have tried to add to the story from other sources: human rights organizations and reporters around the world. In the February 11 New York Times, Bob Herbert put these actions by our government—in flagrant violation of American and international law—plainly:

“Jettisoning the rule of law to permit such acts of evil as kidnapping and torture is not a defensible policy for a civilized nation. It’s wrong. And nothing good can come from it.”

Now, in the February 14 New Yorker, there is a long, detailed, clearly documented story, “Outsourcing Torture”—the most important piece run by The New Yorker since John Hersey’s internationally resounding essay on what we did to Hiroshima in Japan with the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare.

This report by Jane Mayer should be read by every member of Congress, which has yet to conduct a substantive investigation—with subpoena powers—into these horrific practices. There’s talk of only a cursory “review.” Much more is needed. The extraditions are so secret that even the 9-11 Commission members were not allowed to ask questions about these “extraordinary renditions,” as the CIA bureaucratically calls them.

I know that senators Patrick Leahy, Ted Kennedy, Christopher Dodd, and Richard Durbin have read Jane Mayer’s piece, as has Representative Ed Markey. Durbin, Dodd, and Markey tried to get legislation through in the last term that would throw some initial light on what is happening to detainees, but the bills were killed by the Republican leadership and the White House. (Durbin’s was also snuffed out with the help of our new secretary of state.)

As I shall document later in this series, the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions” began in the Clinton administration, but have been greatly expanded under George W. Bush, who piously and repeatedly pledges that this country will never, ever condone or practice torture. So do his loyalists, the new attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In my more than 25 years as a New Yorker staff writer (while I was also a Voice columnist), its legendary editor, the late William Shawn, ran many of my pieces. But he killed one because, he told me, it might deleteriously affect our war in Vietnam. The piece was a profile of A.J. Muste, the chief strategist of the anti-war movement.

The present New Yorker editor, David Remnick, has no such reservation about affirming Justice Louis Brandeis’s mandate for a free society: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

My one suggestion to Remnick about this crucial Jane Mayer article is that he make it more widely available by publishing it in pamphlet form, or in other readily available formats, and also send it to all members of Congress—along with an invitation to George W. Bush to respond to it. And what does Porter Goss, who runs the CIA, have to say about these kidnappings?

Members of Congress should be especially interested in Mayer’s references to John Yoo, who, as deputy assistant attorney general under John Ashcroft, was a principal adviser to the president on how to evade international and American law in the war on terror. (For background on Yoo and other accomplices in these crimes, see the essential new book, the 1,284-page The Torture Papers, Cambridge University Press, edited by Karen Greenberg and Joshua Dratel. It will chill your bones.)

From Jane Mayer’s “Outsourcing Torture”:

“As Yoo saw it, Congress doesn’t have the power to ‘tie the President’s hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique. . . . It’s the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can’t prevent the President from ordering torture.’

“[Yoo] went on to suggest that President Bush’s victory in the 2004 election, along with the relatively mild challenge to Gonzales mounted by the Democrats in Congress, was ‘proof that the debate is over. . . . The issue is dying out. The public has had its referendum.’ ”

Do you agree that the debate is over? (John Yoo is now a professor at the prestigious UC Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall, presumably teaching the rule of law.)

There will be more in this intermittent series about the special extralegal rules the president has given the CIA, as well as additions to Mayer’s article. But I urge you to get this 80th anniversary issue of The New Yorker, and then insist that your members of Congress interrogate the top-level perpetrators of war crimes in this administration.

On the floor of the Senate, as the vote was to be called on Alberto Gonzales’s nomination for attorney general, Ted Kennedy—in what may be the most quotable remark of his career—said: “We have a choice. Do we stand for the rule of law, or do we stand for torture? This vote will speak volumes about whether . . . [we] match our lofty rhetoric about fundamental values.”

Following the president, a majority of the Senate chose torture. How much do you care?