Saturday, April 25, 2009

American Torture – Next Steps

There is some argument that these torture tactics worked in some cases and it helped American Security in certain ways; hence demand by Cheney that more documents be released too. Hard Republicans / Cheney type will like to argue that there are cases when such torture is the only way to secure Americans. It is the famous Jack Bauer (Fox TV Serial 24) hunting the nuclear bomb in LA scenario. It is not far to imagine that Obama will have to face such assertions head on and say that:

- America will essentially learn to live without such ‘crude and unacceptable’ weapons (torture) to secure herself; and

- America will be smart enough so that she does not land up in a situation where torture by Jack Bauer is the only way to get information about a nuke in American city. In that sort of scenario being smart on borders (Obama initiative of checking cargos at port for example) will nip the danger in bud.

Primarily Obama will have to engage in the dialog with Americans where he tells American that a narrow debate about ‘utility of torture’ misses the larger set of arsenals which we have forgotten to use and the usage of which in the end will make America safe.

Beyond that should ‘torture talk’ be part of Obama’s discourse? No. He is wise to conclude that any Administration initiated Truth Commission or some similar dispense will no doubt come at the cost of his larger policy agenda.

True, this issue is big and the genie is out. We also realize the gravity when Andrew Sullivan says ‘democracies die when tortures are justified by the State’. But does the State end at White House only? What about courts and public prosecution? It is well known that Congress has the proclivity to get engaged in any such grand standing topics where they can ditch their more mundane tasks of governance and budget passing. But that will again be the loss for Obama policy agenda. True, certain involvement from the Congress is inevitable. But it is not required for the White House to take an initiative in these matters.

The simple reason is Obama is elected to fix our economy and to reject stupid foreign policy pursued by his predecessor. Neither had Obama campaigned on the plank of Truth Commission nor did American public vote him to create America’s version of Nuremberg trials. That is the essence of the democracy – folks get votes, folks get elected, folks become rulers and rulers start using their mandate. The ‘heart’ of the democracy is that the mandate is used primarily for the purposes for which it was granted by voters in the first place. No one is saying that elected politicians can shirk away from constitutional responsibilities which they inherit. But at the same time elected politicians owe to their voters that they do not start the flame which grows into all consuming inferno. George Bush did precisely this mistake – in the name of securing Americans he started the enormous project of Iraq. Obama is trying to be responsible here and trying to stick to his mandate.

Americans can very well say that they have changed their mind and majority would like to investigate further torture and punish the culprit (expected Gallup poll next week). But, well, this is an election based democracy where elected ones have to rule with whatever their mandate obtained in the last election. Even if majority wants something else, they will have to wait until next election comes around.

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