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.

It’s high time to close Guantanamo Bay

The terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay is still open, in spite of what president Obama has declared and in spite of the many demands to close it.

As recently as last week, President Obama said that he continues to believe that Guantanamo should be closed.

“I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive.  It is inefficient.  It hurts us in terms of our international standing.  It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts.  It is a recruitment tool for extremists… And I’m going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people.  And it’s not sustainable.”  

Karen Greenberg, head of the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School, is an expert on the Guantanamo prison. In an interview with me for my book America — Land of Dreams she said that Obama might have succeeded in closing Guantanamo immediately after he won the election in 2008, but he didn’t act fast enough, and he failed. And because Guantanamo is still open, we still have a system of “indefinite detention” and that, for me, she said, is “unacceptable.”

An article by Greenberg in the Washington Post last Sunday, called “Five Myths about Guantanamo Bay,” lays out the situation at Guantanamo today for the remaining 166 prisoners, of whom 100 are hunger-striking. Four of them have been hospitalized and 23 are force-fed.  Read it!

It’s high time to close Guantanamo.

So that we never forget…

I saw this sign, “Torture is always wrong,” outside a Presbyterian church in Columbus, Indiana during my recent visit there. It can serve us well as a reminder that it is ten years ago this week since lawyers in the Bush Administration issued the “torture memos” justifying torture.

“Torture is always illegal,” writes Morris Davis, law professor and retired Air Force Col. and former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in today’s Los Angeles Times. “And we should mark the 10th anniversary of the effort by the Bush administration to justify torture, remembering that as a nation founded on religious and moral values, we must work to ensure that U.S. government-sponsored torture never occurs again.”

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.”

“Another Obama Foreign Policy Success”

That’s the headline on Taegan Goddard’s blog Political Wire in the aftermath of the reports that the al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, has been killed in a drone attack, and Goddard cites two other blogs, MSNBC’s First Read and ABC TV’s Jake Tapper.

Tapper lists the many names of suspected terrorist leaders killed during Obama’s now almost three years in the White House. If this is defense, I wonder what offense looks like, writes Tapper, referring to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s statement that an Obama presidency would mean that the U.S. would play defense rather than offense in the war against terrorism.

But First Read says that Obama does not get much credit for this success.

A morning in lower Manhattan always remembered

Today, as 9/11 and its nearly three thousand victims are remembered, lower Manhattan has changed but much also remains the same. Where the twin towers used to stand is still a huge construction site and will continue to be for years.  But the view out over the water with the Statue of Liberty in the distance is as stunning as always. The marina over in Battery Park City is full of sailing boats, kids are playing, and people are enjoying the sun set. The dark and narrow streets around Wall Street are full of people as lower Manhattan today has many new residents.

That morning, ten years ago, our world at 80 John Street, where we then lived three blocks from what would become known as Ground Zero, came crashing down.

The morning had begun so brilliantly beautiful as my wife, our daughter and I were preparing us for an ordinary day in New York. Suddenly there was a big explosion, much larger than the usual noise on lower Manhattan. I rushed down and out on the street where people had gathered and stood and looked up at the sky up to the north twin tower that stood in the fire. A plane had run straight into the North Tower. How could it happen?

Chaos, confusion. Then another big explosion when the south tower was hit. This was no accident. Then, the unthinkable – the gigantic south tower simply fell, like a deck of cards, straight from the top down in a roar. A huge, dark mass of debris and smoke and dust rushed towards me like a dark wall on our narrow street. It got pitch-black . Coughing and shocked people filled our foyer. We couldn’t see and we could hardly breathe.

It did brighten somewhat before the north tower – again in an incredibly, almost simple way. We were swept back into the dust and smoke and complete darkness. Out on the street more and more people appeared. They came out of the smoke and dust and darkness from Ground Zero as from another world. Employees from the shops and residents provided protective masks and water bottles. Many had no idea where they were and how they could get away. Go north, north, we said and pointed.

By now, we had no electricity, no telephone. We started to pack the essentials and headed out on the street, covered with many inches dust and debris, away from Ground Zero and walked north. Soon we were out in the sun and the clear blue sky, but behind us, where the twin towers once stood, there was now emptiness.

It took over a week before we could return home. Life on John Street in lower Manhattan had changed. Several months after September 11, we walked around nervously, watching intently aircraft that flew over the town a little too low, flinching with any loud noise. A foul odor from the smoldering hole at Ground Zero followed us constantly.

In June, we moved up to the West Side of Manhattan, near the greenery of Central Park. It was no easy decision, but we needed to get away from the daily reminders of Ground Zero and a neighborhood that was going to be a gigantic construction site for years to come.

It’s been said that after 9/11, life will never be the same again. For us, that is certainly true.

“Torture apologists” and Osama bin Laden’s death

As I pointed out yesterday, with every hour we learn more about how Osama bin Laden was tracked down and killed.

Front-page articles in today’s New York Times and Washington Post are, of course, a must to read, but I would also point to The New Yorker’s website, and its blog News Desk, where invaluable reading can be found in a number of articles by the staff, in particular Jane Mayer’s piece on the new torture debate in the “Bin Laden Dead: Torture Debate Lives On.”

In comments about bin Laden’s death, leading Republicans like Dick Cheney have praised President Obama, but many of the comments have been stingy and some have completely avoided giving Obama any credit, as Sarah Palin did not do in a speech yesterday in Colorado. In many of the Republican comments Obama’s success is really the result of the foundation laid by President George W. Bush, including the harsh interrogation methods – – torture, plain and simple — against al Qaeda members in secret prisons and at Guantanamo.

Jane Mayer writes:

Well, that didn’t take long. It may have taken nearly a decade to find and kill Osama bin Laden, but it took less than twenty-four hours for torture apologists to claim credit for his downfall.

Mayer refers to the organization “Keep America Safe”, where Cheney’s daughter Liz and Bill Kristol published a “victory statement” that praised the Bush administration’s interrogation methods, without mentioning President Obama at all.

Also Slate’s legal columnist Dahlia Lithwick writes about “torture apologists” in her comments, “Closing Pandora’s Box”.

She writes: we can never prove or disprove, that the Bush administration’s interrogation practices led to bin Laden’s death. All we can say with certainty is that we tortured. And we must now decide if we want to continue to live like that.

With Bin Laden’s death, let’s simply agree that the objectives of the Bush administration’s massive anti-terror campaign have finally been achieved, and that the time for extra-legal, extra-judicial government programs—from torture, to illegal surveillance, to indefinite detention, to secret trials, to non-trials, to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay—has now passed. There will be no better marker for the end of this era. There will be no better time to inform the world that our flirtation with a system of shadow-laws was merely situational and that the situation now is over.

Conclusion: a better America!