Thursday, November 11, 2010

Punish the whistleblowers, reward the passive onlookers: the staggering double standard around US war crimes

The US Justice Department has announced that it would not press charges over the destruction of CIA videotapes depicting the “enhanced interrogation” of terrorism suspects. In 2005, Jose Rodriguez Jr, a top CIA official, authorized the destruction of 92 tapes showing two detainees being repeatedly waterboarded. Although the CIA was instructed by a court law not to destroy evidence of torture, CIA officials argue that their motive was innocent: they were only trying to protect the identity of the interrogators.

This decision shocked many civil liberties and human rights groups. However, it is consistent with the stance adopted by the Obama administration, which has vowed to “look forward, not backwards,” and has made no serious efforts to investigate crimes committed during the so-called “war on terror.” Not surprisingly, the very people who attempted to cover up the widespread use of torture against terrorism suspects are walking free. According to one of Rodriguez’ attorneys, he “is an American hero, a true patriot who only wanted to protect his people and his country.” And his own back.

Conversely, attempts to “look back” are not welcome, and whistleblowers are being treated like criminals. The website Wikileaks angered many powerful people when it published classified documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These documents revealed how the US military was responsible for the widespread killing of civilians, and had passively condoned the torture of detainees at the hands of Iraqi security forces.

Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of leaking classified military documents on the Afghan war to Wikileaks, could face a 52 year sentence. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald reported this week that US citizens associated with Wikileaks had been detained at US airports and their electronic equipments seized, “all without a search warrant, without being charged with a crime, and without even being under investigation.” In July, Jacob Applebaum, a spokesman for Wikileaks, was detained at Newark airport while returning from a trip and interrogated at length. His electronic equipment was confiscated, and still has to be handed back to him to this day. Last week, David House, a 23-year-old researcher who created the Bradley Manning Support Network, was detained at O’Hare airport and interrogated by two FBI agents.

Accusing Wikileaks of having blood on its hands was not enough. Now the US government has seemingly launched a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Wikileaks and its supporters. Meanwhile, in the name of “looking forward,” charges are being dropped against the people responsible for covering up the systematic torture of detainees. How long will it be before looking backward becomes a crime?

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