Only Whistleblowers Held Accountable for Torture

As a follow up to Glenn Greenwald’s article about the Obama administration officially closing the door on any prosecutions of Bush-era torture, Adam Serwer notes that the only ones being held responsible for anything that took place are those who blew the whistle on such crimes:

Durham had originally been assigned to investigate the destruction of CIA tapes that showed the torture of two detainees in American custody. The tapes had been destroyed by former CIA official Jose Rodriguez, who has described torture as America putting on its “big boy pants” but worried that the public reaction to the material contained on the tapes would be “devastating.” Rodriguez hasn’t faced any charges for his deliberate destruction of evidence, though he has written a book about his experiences and gone on a publicity tour making dubious arguments about the effectiveness of torture…

Since taking office, the president has hewed closely to his philosophy of “looking forward,” at least when it comes to officially sanctioned wrongdoing by agents of the state. From here on, American national security officials have little reason to worry about criminal penalties for breaking the law, even if doing so results in the death of another human being.

Still, not everyone connected to Bush-era torture has escaped accountability. John Kiriakou, the former CIA official who went public about interrogation techniques like waterboarding, isbeing prosecuted for disclosing classified information for allegedly assisting defense attorneyswho were seeking to identify interrogators who may have tortured their clients.

You can torture a detainee in your custody to death and get away with it. You just can’t talk about it.

And this pattern repeats itself when it comes to the NSA’s data mining and warrantless wiretap programs — no one who violated the constitution is ever held responsible, but anyone who revealed the existence of those violations are. And of course, any attempt by the victims of these crimes to gain justice in the courts will be quickly snuffed out by the State Secrets Privilege — you know, the one that Obama says he’s opposed to but has used in every single case. Andrew Sullivan’s response is pretty much spot on:

It’s a disgusting sign of the collapse of the rule of law among Washington’s elites – pioneered by the Obama Justice Department. War crimes are forgiven; leaks revealing war crimes are punished. That the CIA won’t face any accountability for actually torturing people to death has now been cemented in a bipartisan way by a craven president who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize while proceding to make a mockery of the Geneva Conventions for four years. Not prosecuting torture – not torture-homicides – is a grotesque violation of Geneva and makes the current president a violator of Geneva. He better not complain when an American soldier is captured and tortured to death.

But he will, and so will the media, and so will the vast majority of Americans. This is what “American exceptionalism” really means — we are exempted from all moral and legal rules. When other governments commit war crimes and violate their treaty obligations to protect human rights, they are evil; when our own government does it, they’re only protecting the American way of life. Because as long as we continually and grandiosely declare our allegiance to ideas like human rights and the rule of law, it doesn’t matter whether we actually practice them or not.

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  • On the whistleblower front, here’s a bit of good news: Swedish authorities have cancelled at least one warrant for Julian Assange’s arrest on rape charges. (Not sure how many there are.)

  • baal

    Thanks for the note Bee. I hadn’t seen the story yet.

    Brad lee manning hasn’t been tried for his potential crimes and then put in jail for the relevant time periods. Instead, he embarrassed the wrong people who are abusing him to send a message to any other would be leakers of intel. The difference is the rule of law vs petty tyranny.

  • Lou Jost

    Raging Bee, sorry to spoil your good news, but that article was written in 2010!

  • So that means George Washington, who was against torture, wore “little boys pants?”

    Even Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, was against torture for two reasons: first to avoid torturing innocent people, second, because people will say anything to end the pain.

  • Abby Normal

    USC › Title 18 › Part I › Chapter 1 › § 3

    Accessory after the fact

    Whoever, knowing that an offense against the United States has been committed, receives, relieves, comforts or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent his apprehension, trial or punishment, is an accessory after the fact.

    In a slightly more perfect world, not only would Bush and his cohorts be tried for crimes against humanity, but those from current administration involved with “looking ahead” would follow them to prison as accessories. I know this is the real world and the above doesn’t really apply from a legal perspective. But morally, the principle of justice expressed in that law clearly does.

    I’m constantly amazed and saddened by how little attention this topic generates. Watergate is widely viewed as the biggest political scandal in American history, a president conspiring to commit B&E. Perhaps if Nixon had shoved bamboo shoots under the fingernails of the Democratic campaign workers to get the info he was after, he’d have served a second term. No need for a pardon. We must look forward.

  • Infophile

    Okay, I’ve officially had enough. I’ve created a petition on the We The People site, to see if we can get enough people to demand a response from the government about this. You can access the petition at Once it gets 150 signatures, it will be publicly viewable, but until then, I’ll need some help with spreading the word about it.

  • Michael Heath


    I signed your petition.

  • Aaron

    I also signed your petition.

  • Homo Straminus

    Two things:

    1) The fact that Jose Rodriguez is actively making money off torture makes me spittin’ nails mad. And not just any small nails, neither. Big nails. Huge ones. The kind of nail that when it walks in a room the other nails nudge each other and go, “Oy! Get a load of that effin’ huge one, eh?”

    2) Incidentally, wikipedia has a fairly detailed article on American exceptionalism. While the neocons have their own definition (“USA! USA! USA!”), it was rooted in the ideas that the founding of our nation was “exceptional” because of things like it being a democracy, its population having a “frontier spirit,” etc. that set it apart from Europe. The stinger at the end of the article is twofold: first, that upon examination, there’s not a huge difference between America and Europe these days, apart from the size and racial makeup of our lowest-class citizens, and this:

    [C]ritic Andrew Moravcsik alleged that some of Baldwin’s evidence actually supports the stereotype of a distinctive American model: a free-market system with little labor protection, an adversarial legal system, high murder rates, high rates of gun ownership, a large prison population, inequitable and expensive health care, and relatively widespread poverty.

    So sure, we’re exceptional. Just in the opposite way the neocons wish.

  • Canadians, on the other hand, don’t do the torture ourselves, we let other people do it and use the information. It doesn’t matter whether they are Canadian citizens or not. Hands clean, noses dirty.

  • Steve Morrison

    Language Log also had a good post on the shifting meaning of “American exceptionalism” earlier this year.

  • amadan

    Pretty much unanimous criticism of Bush-Lite Obama’s administration, so.

    How do posters here feel about voting for him then? Are you persuaded by the ‘lesser-of-two-evils’argument?

    Do you believe it will improve this situation?

  • Ichthyic

    So sure, we’re exceptional. Just in the opposite way the neocons wish.

    what makes you think they don’t want it exactly that way?

    Perhaps, you meant to say it’s the opposite to the soundbites they toss out?

  • Ichthyic

    Do you believe it will improve this situation?

    it’s the choice of voting for someone that at least SAYS they want to change it, so there might be the possibility they will, vs. someone who positively and publicly claims they will reinforce the issue instead.

    in the end, it’s all about hope, since there is no choice.

  • Infophile

    Thank you for the signatures. I’d also appreciate if anyone here could help spread the word. I have my doubts this will do any good even if it reaches the threshold, but right now I’m at the point where I have to try something. At the very least, I’d like to hear the government try to defend their actions.