The ACLU today launched a major new campaign to impose accountability for torture and related Bush-era crimes. The campaign -- Accountability for Torture -- is devoted principally to a restoration of the rule of law and the appointment by the DOJ of a Special Prosecutor. The website to coordinate these efforts is here, and that site is also now probably the single best resource for all documents and other information relating to torture and accountability efforts. The ACLU has clearly led the way in battling for disclosure of Bush-era war crimes secrets -- so much of what we know is due to their litigation efforts and those of other civil liberties groups (rather than, say, the efforts of the "watchdog" media or the "oversight" Congress). But what has been missing up until now is a coordinated, centralized effort to galvanize public demands for accountability, and this project is intended to provide that.
To launch the campaign, I hosted a podcast discussion on issues of accountability and transparency with international human rights lawyer Philippe Sands (author of Torture Team) and ACLU litigator Amrit Singh (co-author of Administration of Torture), which can be heard here. It is roughly 25 minutes long. One of the critical themes that emerged was that, both in general and specifically for Bush crimes, a prerequisite to accountability is transparency and disclosure. Only once citizens know what their Government did will they be able to hold the wrongdoers accountable. Along those lines, The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin today noted some very important observations from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in a Senate floor speech he gave about the ongoing suppression of information relating to Bush crimes of torture:
[T]here has been a campaign of falsehood about this whole sorry episode. It has disserved the American public.... [F]acing up to the questions of our use of torture is hard enough. It is worse when people are misled and don't know the whole truth and so can't form an informed opinion and instead quarrel over irrelevancies and false premises. Much debunking of falsehood remains to be done but cannot be done now because the accurate and complete information is classified...
It is intensely frustrating to have access to classified information that proves a lie and not be able to prove that lie. It does not serve America well for Senators to be in that position.
Disclosure and transparency are the linchpin of meaningful, informed debates. By contrast, suppressing information is what uniquely enables a government to lie and deceive. Dick Cheney can run around making claims about the legality of the torture and rendition programs only because the current administration continues to engage in such extreme measures to block any judicial review or disclosure. Identically, Cheney is free to claim that the abuses of Abu Ghraib were isolated aberrations because the current administration continues to suppress the photographs of detainee abuse that prove the opposite: the abuse seen at Abu Ghraib was anything but isolated, asthe tactics used at there were used at virtually every American "War on Terror" detention facility because they were the by-product of policies approved at the highest levels of government. That is why principles of transparency generally and FOIA specifically are so vital: as Sen. Whitehouse said, they are the only checks against the sort of rank deceit that has dominated debates over Bush-era policies and accountability for them.
In a separate column today, Froomkin -- one the favorite media writers of progressives during the Bush era -- noted the numerous steps the Obama administration has taken to bring greater transparency to domestic policy-making, but then observed:
Obama's approach to disclosure issues is turning out to be profoundly schizophrenic. On national security issues, Obama has been intensely disappointing. Most notably, I now consider him a willing and active partner in the cover-up of the Bush torture legacy.
One can debate the relative merits of Obama's positions, but Froomkin's factual statement about Obama's transparency policies seems very difficult to dispute. Disclosure is the pre-requisite for accountability. Covering-up evidence of crimes, at some point, does indeed make one complicit. The podcast discussion I hosted on these matters today can be heard here, and the new ACLU website for its accountability project is here.
UPDATE: Bill O'Reilly was just on Fox News vigorously praising Obama for trying to suppress the torture photos and viciously accusing Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank and Louise Slaughter of endangering the lives of The Troops by blocking the Graham/Lieberman amendment. O'Reilly is now interviewing Joe Lieberman and Linsdey Graham, and they're doing the same. They all agree that Obama has acted so nobly here, and that Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats are Far Leftists radicals who don't care for the lives of the troops. As is true for preventive detention, military commissions and so many similar matters, the political divisions that have materializied in these areas are most interesting -- and most revealing.
Independently, it's quite amazing to watch the very same people who endorsed every policy that drove anti-American hatred to sky-high levels -- the attack on Iraq, torture, Guantanamo, etc. -- insist that these photos must be suppressed because anything that increases anti-American sentiment will endanger the lives of The Troops.