Saturday, October 11, 2008

Speaking Against Torture -- A Continuing Series

For part of the period of renovations, I was able to travel in Europe, speaking about torture. One outcome of that journey was a commentary published in our local daily paper, the Fayetteville Observer.

The Observer has editorialized strongly against torture, not once but several times. This is remarkable in itself; it’s more remarkable because of the paper’s military locale; and it’s downright distinguished given the stony silence on this subject in the editorial columns of larger papers in this state.

So kudos to them for speaking the truth. And below, slightly edited, is my first OpEd chiming in:

Fayetteville NC Observer– Thursday, July 10, 2008 in the Opinion category.

Torturers may see justice
By Chuck Fager

What are the chances that those responsible for torture in the so-called U.S. "war on terror" will escape punishment?

According to Dick Marty (that's him below), right now the chances are good.

Very good, in f

And Dick Marty should know. He’s the Swiss equivalent of a U.S. senator — and the chief anti-torture investigator for The Council of Europe, that continent’s official human rights monitoring group.

Marty produced two groundbreaking investigative reports that disclosed loads of hidden details about illegal U.S. torture flights to and across Europe. They also named Poland and Romania as the sites of similarly unlawful secret U.S. prisons.

The CIA shrugged off Marty’s reports, and they got little notice in the U.S. But elsewhere they are recognized as landmarks, and haven’t exactly burnished the U.S. image abroad.

I visited Europe last spring, giving talks to church groups, urging international action to stop torture. While there, I sought an appointment with Dick Marty. Having done investigative reporting myself, I wanted to give him props for a superb job, and talk about how he pulled it off.

More important, I hoped to get his candid view about the road ahead. I interviewed him in Lugano, his home town.

Knowing what he knows, I asked, is there any way to stop the perps from skating into the sunset on rollerblades of impunity?

Pardon the amateur crime-fighter argot, but it fits. Before Marty was elected to the Swiss parliament, he was a tough prosecutor who bested mobsters and drug barons in his home canton of Ticino, which adjoins Italy.

Marty’s English was limited, but his response was unmistakable: "That’s exactly the right question to be asking," he said.

After that, he didn’t have much immediate encouragement to offer. But then, he’s not in the optimism business.

Sure, he agreed, torture is already outlawed under both international and national laws. But, he added, at a secret NATO meeting in Athens in late 2001, the U.S. demanded and got assurances from all other member nations of impunity for its military and intelligence agencies, for any actions related to the "war on terror" on their territories. Several non-NATO nations, such as Ireland, later signed on as well.

Meanwhile, in U.S. courts, repeated assertions of the doctrine of "state secrets" have thus far stymied efforts, even by certifiably innocent torture victims like Khaled El Masri, to gain any redress.

So right now, it looks pretty well sewn up: tough luck, torture victims. And as for us lily-livered lovers of the Bill of Rights, better luck next time.

But that’s the short-term view. Marty wasn’t suggesting I go home and give up. "This will be a long work," Marty said. "It will require patience and determination."

Which means that the current forecast for torturers may be sunny, like Fayetteville weather. But that can change.

How? In a lot of ways, mostly a bit at a time. Public pressure could continue to build, investigations begin, half-hearted at first, but picking up steam as the depth of the problem became clearer.

And eventually, prosecutions — most likely these would start outside the United States. (Reliable reports are that cases are already being prepared in several countries, to surface in January.) And maybe a different U.S. president might just decide to keep out of their way.

Where would such a buildup of public pressure in the U.S. come from?

Believe it or not, the most likely place is American churches.

That’s what happened, by the way, in the most famous anti-impunity case so far: the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998. That bust took 10 years of persistent work, and the Catholic Church was a major factor.

There are already several inter-church, anti-torture coalitions at work in the U.S. And they include more than the usual liberal suspects. An evangelical conference against torture is planned for Atlanta in September.

I’ll be there. I figure it’s the least a follower of Jesus could do.

Any other Fayetteville Christians care to come along?

We can send Dick Marty a postcard.

How do you say "patience and determination" in Swiss-accented Italian?

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