The dream of justice

“I don’t look like Halle Berry,” said Whoopie Goldberg in a recent interview. “But chances are, she’s going to end up looking like me.”

“I don’t look like Halle Berry,” said Whoopie Goldberg in a recent interview. “But chances are, she’s going to end up looking like me.”

Barack Obama doesn’t look much like Gerald Ford either, but what are the chances that Obama will end up looking like Ford?

Gerald Ford, who unexpectedly became U.S. president after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974, gave Nixon a presidential pardon a few months later.

If Nixon had been tried by the courts for the various offences he was accused of (and the tapes were there as evidence), he would have faced serious jail time, but it would have torn the United States apart.

On the other hand, issuing that pardon probably cost Gerry Ford the 1976 election, because somehow in the public’s mind it implicated him in Nixon’s crimes.

In effect, Barack Obama has just pardoned all the torturers who worked for the Bush administration.

To what extent will that erode his support among those voters who really believed that he would put justice ahead of pragmatism?

True, Obama has not pardoned the senior people who set the policy and the lawyers who wrote the legal defence for it, but they will clearly never face a court as long as he is in office.

This seems like good politics to White House strategists at the moment – who needs a years-long court battle (with an uncertain outcome) to punish crimes that were committed years ago? – but it could come back and bite them.

It was useful to publish the actual memos that the Bush administration’s lawyers wrote arguing that a variety of coercive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, were legal.

Some gentle souls will be shocked by the detailed descriptions of the techniques that the Central Intelligence Agency was authorized to use on detainees – although in fact much worse things were done to those unlucky enough to be “renditioned” for torture by various U.S. allies.

But many people believe that “useful” isn’t enough.

What these memos show is that between 2003 and 2008 U.S. government agents were authorised to use at least one technique – waterboarding – that the same government had clearly defined as torture 60 years before, when the shoe was on the other foot.

At the end of the Second World War, U.S. military tribunals treated Japanese officers who had ordered or carried out waterboarding on Allied prisoners of war as war criminals, and sentenced those found guilty of this form of torture (the Japanese called it the “water cure”) to punishments ranging from 15 years at hard labour to death by hanging.

By contrast, Barack Obama has declared that CIA agents who used the same technique will be guaranteed immunity for their actions. This can hardly be called justice.

On the other hand, did you really expect the U.S. government to judge its own employees today by the same standards that it applied long ago to the soldiers of a foreign government that had surrendered unconditionally?

Did you really think that Barack Obama was going to unleash a legal process that would inevitably work its way up the chain of command and end by indicting George W. Bush and Dick Cheney?

The United States is not a defeated power under foreign military occupation, and it is not going to put itself through all that. The torture has apparently now stopped in prisons that are under direct American control, and one hopes that serious efforts are being made by the U.S. government to retrieve those detainees whom the Bush administration “renditioned” to other governments for much worse tortures, but that’s as far as it’s going to go.

We dream of a just world, but any grown-up knows that real life is very unfair.

Good people suffer, the wicked prosper, and most crimes go unpunished.

When the criminals are the servants of a government that has gone off the rails, it is even harder to punish the guilty because most of them can argue that they were only obeying orders.

Moreover, the new government, faced with the decision to prosecute the criminals or not, will always put the stability of its own rule first.

That is why the new democratic government that came to power in 1994 in South Africa after the long nightmare of apartheid chose to create the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where former torturers and murderers were granted amnesty in return for full confessions, instead of seeking vengeance through the courts.

Even less was done after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, despite the long and ghastly history of human rights abuses under the Communist regime.

There has been no change of regime in the United States, just a change of administration. The great majority of the military and civilian employees of the U.S .government who must turn President Obama’s policies into actions are the very same people who previously did the same for former president George W. Bush.

So Obama changes the policy on torture, symbolically condemns it by publishing the memos — and stops there.

The alternative – to seek justice for the victims of abuse even if the heavens fall – would probably cost him victory in a dozen other political battles over the next few years. Like most of us, he probably dreams of justice, but he has to deal with reality.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.

Just Posted

Gabe Cuthand, Brandon McDonald, Dean Johnson and Dakota Dion drumming during a past Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at City Hall Park in Red Deer (Advocate file photo).
Indigenous People’s Day will be celebrated online on Monday

National Indigenous Peoples Day will be celebrated in Red Deer on Monday… Continue reading

(Black Press file photo).
A look at COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada on Friday, June 18, 2021

The latest numbers on COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of 4:00 a.m.… Continue reading

(Black Press file photo).
AstraZeneca second dose ‘good choice’ despite federal guidance: B.C.’s top doctor

THE CANADIAN PRESS VICTORIA — British Columbia’s top doctor says there is… Continue reading

A person walks past a colourful wall while wearing a protective mask in the warm weather during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
A look at COVID-19 reopening plans across the country

As COVID-19 vaccination rates increase and case numbers drop across the country,… Continue reading

Ubuntu – Mobilizing Central Alberta co-founder Dieulita Datus (front left) received a Multiculturalism, Indigenous and Inclusion Grant for the organization from the Government of Alberta. (Photo by Advocate staff)
Central Alberta organization promoting diversity, inclusion receives $6,000 grant from Alberta gov’t

Ubuntu was given the funds to further its work into equality and equity for all

A supporter of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi holds a sign during a rally in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Iran's clerical vetting committee has allowed just seven candidates for the Friday, June 18, ballot, nixing prominent reformists and key allies of President Hassan Rouhani. The presumed front-runner has become Ebrahim Raisi, the country's hard-line judiciary chief who is closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iran votes in presidential poll tipped in hard-liner’s favor

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranians voted Friday in a presidential… Continue reading

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto, left, and President Seiko Hashimoto attend the news conference after receiving a report from a group of infectious disease experts on Friday, June 18, 2021, in Tokyo. The experts including Shigeru Omi, head of a government coronavirus advisory panel, issued a report listing the risks of allowing the spectators and the measurements to prevent the event from triggering a coronavirus spread. (Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool Photo via AP)
Top medical adviser says ‘no fans’ safest for Tokyo Olympics

TOKYO (AP) — The safest way to hold the Tokyo Olympics is… Continue reading

FILE - In this June 12, 2021, file photo, Rajkumar Haryani, 38, who painted his body to create awareness about vaccination against the coronavirus poses for photographs after getting a dose of Covishield vaccine in Ahmedabad, India. Starting June 21, 2021, every Indian adult can get a COVID-19 vaccine dose for free that was purchased by the federal government. The policy reversal announced last week ends a complex system of buying vaccines that worsened inequities in accessing vaccines. India is a key global supplier of vaccines and its missteps have left millions of people waiting unprotected. The policy change is likely to address inequality but questions remain and shortages will continue. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki, File)
How India is changing vaccine plan amid shortages

NEW DELHI (AP) — Starting Monday, every adult in India will be… Continue reading

Chief of Defence staff General Jonathan Vance speaks during a news conference to , in Ottawa Tuesday August 30, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces says it is making progress in the fight against sexual misconduct in the ranks, but much more work needs to be done. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Freeze promotions until military commanders are screened for misconduct: Committee

OTTAWA — A parliamentary committee has called for a freeze on all… Continue reading

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Hussen says he is looking to municipalities to reshape local rules to more quickly build units through the government's national housing strategy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Cities should redo planning, permitting to align with housing strategy, minister says

OTTAWA — The federal minister in charge of affordable housing says he… Continue reading

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. On June 1, NACI had said AstraZeneca recipients "could" get Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for their second shot if they wanted, but Thursday went further to say an mRNA vaccine was the "preferred" choice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

When Gwenny Farrell booked her second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine… Continue reading

Brooklyn Nets' James Harden, right, is guarded by Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, center, during the first half of Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Bucks bounce back to defeat Nets 104-89 and force Game 7

MILWAUKEE — Khris Middleton scored 38 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 30 and… Continue reading

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) brings the puck up the ice against the New York Islanders during the third period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinals, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Uniondale, N.Y. Tampa Bay won 2-1.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Point scores again, Lightning beat Islanders 2-1 in Game 3

Lightning 2 Islanders 1 (Tampa Bay leads series 2-1) UNIONDALE, N.Y. —… Continue reading

Most Read