Obama: Can’t Spare Change for Torture Victims

Posted: February 11, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Obama’s Justice Department just reaffirmed one of the most egregious, unconstitutional and criminal practices of previous administrations: using an expansive version of the state secrets privilege to block suits brought against a Boeing subsidiary for helping the CIA kidnap and outsource torture of people not yet convicted of a crime (and no, I’m not making this up, and h/t to Greenwald for staying on top of it and providing fantastic source links).

According to the lawyers:

[Plaintiff Ahmed Agiza] was picked up off the streets of Stockholm and then he was taken to an airport where a CIA rendition team–this is a bunch of men dressed all in black, with their faces covered–sliced off all of his clothes, put a suppository into him, chained him to the floor of an airplane, flew him to Egypt, where he was exposed to absolutely brutal torture, including shock treatment, all kinds of beatings. He was then given a show trial in an Egyptian military court and sentenced to 15 years for involvement in a banned organization.

The state secrets privilege is intended to protect specific classified documents, not throw out whole cases. But that’s exactly what President Bush used it to do, denying people like Ahmed Agiza their right to be made whole in our legal system. What makes this particular case so astounding is that little about Agiza’s case remains secret. Sweeden’s government paid him restitution, and the timeline of the kidnapping and torture have been reported in books and the press in detail.

Use of the privilege in this way has one purpose: to shield the people involved in illegal, unconstitutional and inhuman behavior from accountability.

Today’s New York Times editorial put it very well:

The Obama administration failed — miserably — the first test of its commitment to ditching the extravagant legal claims used by the Bush administration to try to impose blanket secrecy on anti-terrorism policies and avoid accountability for serial abuses of the law.

On Monday, a Justice Department lawyer dispatched by the new attorney general, Eric Holder, appeared before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. The case before them involves serious allegations of torture by five victims of President Bush’s extraordinary rendition program. The five were seized and transported to American facilities abroad or to countries known for torturing prisoners.

Incredibly, the federal lawyer advanced the same expansive state-secrets argument that was pressed by Mr. Bush’s lawyers to get a trial court to dismiss the case without any evidence being presented. It was as if last month’s inauguration had never occurred.

A while back, I wrote a post arguing that the Christian peace and justice movement should prepare to continue to push and protest policies of the Obama administration. Many of Obama’s proposed policies at that time were much-need deviations from President Bush’s policies, but his ambiguity on matters of war and peace left no doubt that he would need pressure and political space to moderate American militarism. This development confirms that concern.

Obama’s affirmation of kidnapping and outsourced torture should remind all of us, especially Christians who give their allegiance only to the loving, nonviolent Jesus Christ, to moderate our enthusiasm for change. True change will be hard-won. We elected a president, but that does not mean our job is finished.

  1. N. Dan Smith says:

    Also, Obama is holding the Bush administration line on warrant-less wiretaps. Meet the new boss . . .

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