We are reminded again: Torture is torture. Period.

The U.S. Senate’s torture report is out, and that was a good day for America. But it underlined  once again that America “lost its way”during those dark years after 9/11, as Eric Lichtau wrote in his book Bush’s Law – The Remaking of American Justice.

“This is not how Americans should behave. Ever,” says today’s main editorial in the Washington Post.

So, to talk about whether these “enhanced interrogation techniques” worked or not is completely irrelevant.

“Torture is wrong, whether or not it has ever ‘worked,'”  the Post adds. Exactly.

“Only fools” discuss whether illegal actions “work,” wrote Slate Magazine’s legal commentator Dahlia Lithwick some time ago. Exactly, again.

But, as Lithwick also wrote, they “got away with it:” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, CIA Director George Tenet and his staff member Jose Rodriguez, who destroyed video tapes of the torture sessions.

Now, what? Probably nothing, unfortunately.

Congress, controlled by the Republicans after the new year, will not touch this. And President Obama, who started out so well and in his first weeks as president in 2009 shut down CIA’s secret prisons, prohibited the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and he promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, also said no to all investigations, no prosecutions and no indictments, no truth and reconciliation commission like in South Africa after apartheid, no to a commission report like the one after 9/11. Nothing.

Was he wishing it would all go away? It hasn’t. The prison in Guantanamo Bay is still open and now the torture debate is back with a vengeance.

It was a “horrible decision” by Obama to close the books on this chapter of of our history, writes the New York Times today, describing the whole report as a “portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.” And, it “raises again, with renewed power, the question of why no one has ever been held accountable for these crimes.”

Exactly, yet again.


Supreme Court hands Obama big health care victory

U.S. Supreme Court today presented President Obama with an historic victory when it declared his health care reform constitutional.

The victory came with smallest possible majority, 5 votes to 4, and it came, highly sensationally, by the very conservative Chief Justice John Roberts upholding the law when he sided with the four liberal justices. Usually, the role as the swing vote is played by Justice Anthony Kennedy, but this time Kennedy went hard against health care law and joined Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas in the minority.

When the decision came down this morning, it quickly became clear that the major issue in the law– so-called individual mandate , i.e., that everyone must buy health insurance or pay a fine, was constitutional in that the mandate can be regarded as a kind of a tax, and Congress, of course, has the right to impose new taxes.

While the Democrats were jubilant, the Republicans, who were expecting a “no” from the Court, were deeply disappointed and the House Republican majority immediately declared to continue the fight to repeal the health care law. It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court’s decision will affect the presidential election in November, although the ruling seems to a big boost for Obama, and the Democrats, in general. A ‘no’ in the Supreme Court would have meant an enormous loss of prestige for Obama from which it would have been very difficult to recover.

The Supreme Court ruling is also a victory for America, the only major Western democracy without universal health coverage for its citizens. Obama’s health care reform does not institute universal coverage, but 30 million more American will now have health insurance so it constitutes a major step towards health insurance and health care for all Americans.

Here is the Supreme Court ruling with the warning that it is long, almost 200 pages!

Was it a “justifiable killing?”

The war against terror is seen by many observers as a foreign policy success for President Obama. But was it legal to kill the Yemeni al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and his companion Samir Khan, both American citizens?

A Washington Post editorial today calls the killing “justifiable” and a news story in the paper quotes an Obama Administration official saying that “what constitutes due process in this case is a due process in war.”

Andrew Sullivan on his blog, The Dish, is of a similar view:

“My own position is that we are at war, and that avowed enemies and traitors in active warfare against the U.S. cannot suddenly invoke legal protections from a society they have decided to help destroy.”

I tend to agree, but the issue is not simple, it’s not black and white.

And many are concerned, like Glenn Greenwald at the web site Salon, who condemns the killing. It now appears, he writes, that American citizens can be killed without due process of the law.

Yale law Professor Stephen L. Carter writes on the Daily Beast that the attack raises important ethical questions.

“Obama should tell us, clearly and simply, what the goal of the drone war is; what ethical rules guide him in deciding whom to target; and how we will know when the war is won.”

Obama’s health care reform gets encouraging support

America’s political system is unique in that many of its major issues are decided by the courts and often, ultimately, by the Supreme Court.

One of the biggest questions so far during President Obama’s two years in the White House has been his health care reform, to which the Republicans are strongly opposed. This highly, and most unfortunately, politicized issue now winds its way through the court system, ending up, most likely, with the nine in the Supreme Court.

The resistance to the law is based on its individual mandate, which opponents say is unconstitutional. In the lower courts so far, three judges, all Democrats, have said that the law is consistent with the Constitution while the other two, both Republicans, say the opposite.

This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, handed the Obama Administration a narrow but unexpected and encouraging victory when it said that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is consistent with the Constitution. Although the three judge panel was not unanimous, reform advocates rejoiced in the fact that one of the two judges who gave the law its support was a highly respected conservative judge, appointed by President George W. Bush. It was the first time a federal judge, appointed by a Republican president, declared the law constitutional.

Two, perhaps three other federal appellate courts are expected to issue verdicts this year on the constitutionality of the health care law, and then, maybe, the Supreme Court will take the case.

It’s sad that it has had to come down to this for this law, which takes a giant step towards recognizing something with all other Western democracies have long recognized, that health care for all is a fundamental right of each citizen. Let’s hope it prevails over these frivolous challanges. The health care law is long overdue for America.

“Private Manning’s Humiliation”

When several hundred of the nation’s leading legal academics protest against how the imprisoned soldier Bradley Manning, who allegedly leaked secret documents to WikiLeaks, is treated in prison, such a protest cannot be ignored.

With law professors such as Bruce Ackerman at Yale and Yochai Benkler of Harvard in the lead, over 250 scholars around the United States protested. Their petition is published in the latest issue of New York Review of Books under the headline “Private Manning’s Humiliation”.

His reported treatment is contrary to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the petitioners call for the Obama administration to put Manning on trial to determine his guilt, but, until then, treat him in prison in accordance with the Constitution.

The signatories also call on President Obama directly, as a moral leader and former law professor, to address the issue and demand from the Pentagon to publicly document the reasons for the extraordinary actions against Manning, and to immediately end those extraordinary actions “that cannot withstand the light of day.”

We’ll see if they get a response. They should, but it is not certain.