The fourth prisoner suicide at the Guantánamo concentration camp, which occurred a few days ago while this blog was engaged in belly-button gazing, raises inevitably the matter of bringing to justice the U.S. officials responsible for kidnapping, torture and detention without trial of as yet unknown numbers of individuals worldwide.
Just writing down what has been systematically done with my taxes and in my name brings to mind the disappearances, the desaparecidos, of Argentina in 1976-83, the military regimes of the neighboring South American southern cone between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s, the system of repression under South African Apartheid, the Gulag of the Soviet Union and, yes, the Konzentrationslager of Hitlerian Germany.
An often forgotten point concerning the International Military Tribunal that tried the 24 top leaders of Nazi Germany, along with 200 others concerning crimes against humanity, is that this was necessary because the Germans had neither the rules nor the practice of punishing their own for egregious wrongdoing.
This has unfortunately become the case concerning the political and military leadership of the United States.
In a small snippet in Harper's called to my attention by my older son, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani airs these views concerning instructions to U.S. interrogators: "I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they can think of." Fellow candidate Mitt Romney says he is "glad" detainees are in Guantanamo, where no legal protection is forthcoming.
Even former CIA chief George Tenet, who by his own admission supervised the use of "waterboarding," justifies torture on grounds of fear of another 9/11.
Let's make this clear: waterboarding is a method of torture involving the use of water in such a way as to simulate drowning, produce a gag reflex and induce in the subject the very strong impression that death is imminent.
As tortures go, it is an American classic -- like marketing and Coca-Cola. It is all show. It is psychological. It leaves no physical trace.
Waterboarding is also illegal under U.S. law (18 USC sec. 2340) and the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, signed in 1984 and ratified by the U.S. Senate. Nonetheless, Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney has declared the practice "a no-brainer" in interrogating accused members of Al-Qaeda.
To be sure, the purported justification for waterboarding and much more, Al-Qaeda, is no mere Islamic reading club. However, they're the ones who define themselves as "warriors." Civilized nations recognize that they are only a new instance of organized crime.
Our government does not torture members of the Mafia, even though their drugs, gambling, prostitution and other "rackets" have wrought a toll on our society just as fearsome as Al-Qaeda's. Is it perhaps because too many government officials are bribed by the Mafia?
If so, how long before Osama gets the idea and pours the billions of oil money to the purpose of corruption? Oh, I forgot, that's already been done.
The state of things being what they are, is there any question, then, that at some nearing time, in which the various mirages of war are dissipated, there will be a need for a tribunal to judge Cheney, his boss, and the several thousand top minions who transmitted the orders, or even the winks and nods, to kidnap, torture and detain what we now know are at least 558 men without trial?
Is there little doubt that U.S. justice is not up to the task? It is time to begin thinking about Nuremberg Trials.
This would mean finding an impartial mechanism, no easy task.
The United Nations is too full of nations that, freed of a U.S. veto, would like nothing more than to humiliate the United States, which may be well-deserved but would not accomplice justice as Nuremberg did. (Besides, our leaders have already humiliated us beyond what any foreigner ever could.) For similar reasons, it is difficult to imagine impartiality at the International Court at the Hague.
The internal models available, however, are dicy.
Assassination in exile, as in the 1980 case of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the Nicaraguan Bush, would not be justice.
Argentina tried and convicted all the generals (prosecutors managed to prove in one instance more than 8,000 individual cases of oral transmission of orders from the very top to the very bottom). But a military revolt in the late 1980s forced an ignominious amnesty; only now are the lower ranks, the officers who actually commanded and executed the misdeeds, being brought to trial.
South Africa tried a different approach. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission exchanged confession of misdeeds for pardon. Victims of State violence could come forward and be heard, while perpetrators of State violence could also give testimony and request amnesty.
Critics of the TRC process have pointed out that justice was not achieved. One former prime minister apologized for his part, but another refused to comply with the subpoena, was fined yet ultimately prevailed on appeal. Black South Africa still perceives that the process was tilted in favor of the white criminals.
So the search continues. Can a new Nuremberg Tribunal be convened that brings to justice the Bush regime?