In his recent dispute of the contents of the Senate Torture Report, former Vice President Dick Cheney effectively admitted that both he and President Bush were guilty of violating the UN Convention Against Torture.
Oddly enough, despite the fact that the report absolved the Bush Administration of a great deal of responsibility for the CIA’s actions by claiming that the White House had been mislead by the CIA, the former vice President disputed the report’s findings, stating, “The notion that the agency was operating on a rogue basis was just a flat out lie.” He went on to reject the allegation that his boss, President George W. Bush, was kept in the dark. “He was in fact an integral part of the program. He had to approve it before we moved forward with it… He knew everything he needed to know and wanted to know about the program." Unfortunately, if what the former Vice President claimed is true, then both he and President Bush are guilty of violating the UN Convention Against Torture.
Cheney’s statements attempt to paint the issue in such a light that the use of torture was acceptable considering the circumstances. However, the UN Convention Against Torture, which was enacted during the Reagan Administration, doesn’t provide a loophole for such situations. On the contrary, Part I Article 2 of the Convention Against Torture clearly states, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” In other words, regardless of whether President Bush and Vice President Cheney felt that there was a strategic advantage to embracing torture in the war on terror, their approval or complacency with the CIA’s tactics didn’t make such tactics legal, nor absolve them of their obligations under international law.
If the previous Administration legitimately believes that violating the UN Convention Against Torture was necessary to protect America, given the criminality of doing so, then they should have a fair opportunity to defend their actions in court. However, neither the current President nor the previous President are emperors, and neither are above the law. Therefore, while it’s important that precautions be taken to ensure any investigations or trials are fair and impartial, given the former vice president’s admission, it’s critically important that a full investigation and trial of both former President Bush and former Vice President Cheney take place. Any failure to do so will cost the United States what little moral authority we have left as the world’s one lone remaining superpower.
Unfortunately, despite Cheney’s open admission that the previous administration knowingly engaged in acts that constitute torture, the Obama Administration’s Justice Department has announced that it won’t pursue legal action. Some have suggested that the reason why is a fear that doing so could set a precedent for future presidents to prosecute their predecessors. This brings to light a serious shortcoming in our nation’s systems of checks and balances, in which no American President will hold any previous administration liable for wrongdoing, mainly out of fear the next president could do the same to them. In light of this, if America wishes to retain any semblance of moral authority on the world stage, it’s critical that we find a solution that will allow crimes commit by the executive branch to be investigated and prosecuted without fear of partisan retaliation. After all, we cannot hold ourselves to a different standard than we hold the rest of the world.
If, as the former Vice President has suggested, both he and President Bush knew what the CIA was doing, then the two of them are arguably guilty of war crimes, and should be tried in an impartial court of law for doing so. Leaving an issue as serious as this unprosecuted would demonstrate a complacency with torture and war crimes being committed in America’s name, and that’s unacceptable.