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We need to clean up our own dirty work

Let's see, a U.S. court successfully convicted the son of the brutal former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, of torturing his father's political opponents. But we're going to leave it to a Spanish judge to go after our own Torquemadas?

A Spanish court has targeted former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as well as former Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee — who is now a federal appellate judge — along with three other administration lawyers, in an investigation into the torture of five Spanish residents who were prisoners at Guantanamo.

But this is our job, not Spain's. This is our unfinished business. The Bush administration's Torture Nation should not be shielded by President Barack Obama's desire to move forward. The president, who used as an applause line during his European tour how we've now "prohibited — without exception or equivocation — any use of torture," has some mopping up to do.

It takes no more convincing than reading the sickening descriptions of what we did to the 14 so-called high value detainees in the leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross. But it should be remembered that we inflicted these brutalities — beatings, exposure to frigid conditions, being shackled with arms overhead or shoehorned into tiny boxes, being denied sleep and kept naked — on hundreds of others, many of whom were never a threat and have been since released. That is, if they weren't among the 108 detainees who died in our hands, a figure offered last year by Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, in congressional testimony.

A full accounting of what we did and upon whose orders is essential for a number of reasons. First, refusing to keep the Bush era's dirty little secrets will fulfill Obama's commitment to transparency in government. Second, it will vet the claims of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who continues to say that abusive interrogations were effective, when others equally knowledgeable say they were counterproductive. And third, it is a moral imperative, necessary for us to regain our posture as an international standard-bearer.

As Sen. Patrick Leahy said in proposing a nonpartisan truth commission (an idea that went nowhere), "We cannot turn the page until we have read the page."

One place for the Obama administration to start is in the release of three memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques issued by the Office of Legal Counsel inside the Bush Justice Department in 2005. A federal court has just granted the administration an extension to Thursday — the fourth one — to either make the memos public or give a valid reason for their continued secrecy.

There is no good cause to hold back these documents, since at this point the CIA's handiwork is well known. But the pending release is causing a storm of protest from those with reasons to keep the documents under wraps. Newsweek and Harper's Scott Horton are reporting that Attorney General Eric Holder wants to disclose the memos but there is intense pushback from intelligence officials and Republicans in Congress. Horton writes at that Republican senators are essentially threatening to shut down the business of the Senate if the torture memos are made public.

The memos are apparently ugly things in the extreme and will demonstrate the duplicity of the Bush administration.

The Bush Justice Department had made a big showing of repudiating a 2002 memo written by Bybee and Yoo that approved painful interrogation techniques as consistent with American law. But in 2005, under the sycophant Gonzales, secret memos again unleashed the CIA. The legal opinions gave cover to agency operatives to use their harshest physical and psychological tactics on prisoners in combination.

This shame will not be assuaged until it is confronted. Let those with dirty hands within the intelligence community and Republican apologists in Congress fulminate all they want. President Obama needs to ignore the noise. The American people have a right to know what was done in our name and under whose authority. Spain should not be doing our work for us.

We need to clean up our own dirty work 04/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2009 4:30am]
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