letter in the Inquirer, 4/22/09
President Obama should be commended for ordering the infamous torture memos to be released; however, his attempt to shield the torturers is a grave mistake (“Obama absolves CIA for torture,” Friday). It might better be described as aiding and abetting criminal acts.
Principle IV, established at Nuremburg following the trial of the Nazi war criminals in 1945, established that “following orders” was no defense, provided a moral choice was in fact possible.
Also, the U.S. Army Field Manual provides soldiers with the option of refusing to carry out an illegal order, and the CIA operatives who used head-bashing, starvation, and waterboarding to abuse their prisoners were civilians, thus having more latitude for making difficult ethical choices than soldiers have.
They could have flatly refused to torture other human beings. They could have resigned. They didn’t.
Obama, of course, didn’t rule out prosecuting those at higher levels who designed and approved the torture program (e.g. Dick Cheney) or provided the legal fig leaf for it (John Yoo), but he has said he wants to “move forward.”
We must prosecute those involved in civil-rights abuses at all levels of the political pecking order. Justice requires it. Posterity demands it.