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

Flu immunization now available in Red Deer

Free vaccine to Albertans six months and older

Windows smashed at three Red Deer businesses

Red Deer RCMP arrest man after vandalism spree

Schizophrenia a misunderstood illness, an Alberta expert says

Schizophrenia Society of Alberta campaign kickoff features TSN’s Michael Landsberg in Central Alberta

WATCH: Collecting coats and donations from drivers in Red Deer

Central Albertans made donations to keep children warm and neighbourhoods safe from… Continue reading

PHOTO: Fall Harvest Festival in Red Deer’s West Park

The West Park Community Association hosted the Fall Harvest Festival near West… Continue reading

WATCH: Blackfalds Fire teaches families about fire safety

An open house was held Saturday in support of Fire Prevention Week

Canada gets into Women’s World Cup with 7-0 win over Panama

FRISCO, Texas — Christine Sinclair isn’t concerned about chasing records. She’s set… Continue reading

Baldwin urges ‘overthrow’ of Trump government via voting

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Actor Alec Baldwin followed up his latest parody portrayal… Continue reading

Prince Harry and Meghan expecting their 1st child in spring

CANBERRA, Australia — Prince Harry and his wife, the Duchess of Sussex,… Continue reading

Sears files for Chapter 11 amid plunging sales, massive debt

NEW YORK — Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday, buckling… Continue reading

Doctors to debate medical pot as more patients expected to ask for prescriptions

VANCOUVER — Doctors with opposing views on whether medical marijuana should be… Continue reading

Halifax smoking ban begins today; city announces several new smoking areas

Halifax’s sweeping smoking ban begins today, two days before recreational cannabis is… Continue reading

Canadians widely unaware of accomplishments of famous women, poll suggests

TORONTO — The organization behind Canada’s Heritage Minutes says provincial education systems… Continue reading

Five things about what’s legal and what’s not in Canada’s new pot law

OTTAWA — Canada’s new law legalizing recreational cannabis goes into force on… Continue reading

Most Read