Thursday, April 16, 2009

Armitage: Against Following "Rule of Law" for Torture, Favors "Remedial Corrections" Instead

In this remarkable video snippet from an interview with former Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, conducted by Avi Lewis of Al-Jazeera, Armitage cynically advocates against holding  anyone legally accountable for the Bush administration torture program.

While Armitage admits that prisoners were tortured (waterboarded) he is not for “throwing someone into the Hoosegow” (slang for prison) as he explains it, but instead thinks the appropriate consequences for these crimes should be nothing more than  providing “remedial corrections.”  

So why does Armitage think that there should be no legal accountability for Bush administration officials who were responsible for creating and running the torture program they called "enhanced interrogation?" According to Mr. Armitage it’s because the Framers of the Constitution placed the oversight role of the Executive Branch in the hands of the Congress and, therefore, only the Congress can determine the consequences for these crimes through the oversight process. And then to make the circle of no accountability complete, Mr. Armitage then goes on to condemn the lack of oversight by the Congress during the Bush years, even going so far as to call the Congress  AWOL.  He bemoans the fact that they didn't stop these officials at the time and gives the listeners the impression that because of the lack of oversight that it's now too late to do anything about these crimes other than "remedial corrections."

I certainly agree with Armitage that the Congress was AWOL or MIA in their oversight duties and that there are probably members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who were complicit in the torture program. But I don’t agree that because they were MIA that it means that officials, who were responsible for creating, running and covering up for the torture program, should receive a “get out of jail free card” because of it. That’s not how our system of government works and Mr. Armitage is well aware of that fact.  We have a long history in this country where our Department of Justice has brought charges against members of the executive branch and legislative branch without any prior Congressional activity having taken place. So watching Mr. Armitage twist himself and the Constitution into a pretzel in order to advocate that there be zero accountability for these people is quite disturbing.  

When Mr. Armitage was actually asked a straight forward question about the law, he used a trick, favored by some of our traditional media personalities - he borrowed part of President Obama's words about looking forward and then combined them with his own twist on those words in order to help buttress his argument that there should be no legal accountability for torture.

Lewis: If torture is against the law and you say that the United States tortured, waterboarding specifically, that that’s a crime and surely it should be prosecuted. 

Armitage: You’re making…you're using terms like surely this and surely that. I happen to prefer the formula used by our president where he says he’s much more interested in reconcillation and correction of these problems. He wants to be a forward looking man and that’s where I am.

I actually think that Armitage’s comments in this interview may have been nothing more than Mr. Armitage running interference for his former boss, Colin Powell. As we discovered last year, Powell attended the Principals meetings, where it was reported that various Bush interrogation methods were discussed in detail and approved by those attending the meetings. And because of that, Powell might very well have some legal exposure should a criminal investigation go forward (for all we know Armitage may have some legal exposure of his own).    

At the end of the interview when he's asked why he didn't resign once he found out that the Geneva Conventions were not being followed, Mr. Armitage offers up, what I consider to be nothing more than  a self-serving comment designed to mitigate his own failures.

In hindsight maybe I should’ve. But in those positions you see how many more battles you have. You maybe fool yourself. You say how much worse would x, y, or z be if I weren’t here trying to do it? So torture is a matter of principle as far as I’m concerned. I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would’ve had the courage to resign. **

After watching Mr. Armitage in this video I'm convinced that even had he known about the torture at the time (he may have) that he still wouldn't have resigned over it. He would have rationalized why he should stay just like he did in the statement above. And, even now, when we all know about the torture, Mr. Armitage still lacks the necessary courage to stand up for principle and demand that the people responsbile for these hideous crimes be held accountable through the rule of law. 

No, Mr. Armitage, you would not have had the courage to resign, of that, I'm certain.

**Update: One of the pieces (Mark Silva's) that I used for a quote by Armitage  has now altered that quote on their website. Here is the information they changed since I wrote this piece early this morning.

He hopes that, "had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would've had the courage to resign,'' he said. "But I don't know. It's in hindsight now.''

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