Families of 43 Missing Mexicans Promise Protests over Holidays
by Naharnet Newsdesk 22 December 2014, 09:05
Family members of 43 missing Mexican students said Sunday they would continue pressing for answers over the fate of their sons throughout the holidays.
"There is no vacation, no Christmas or New Years, these days are for struggling," said Meliton Ortega, father of one of the students.
The families plan a protest in Mexico City on December 26, three months after the students disappeared in September, a group organizer told Agence France Presse.
The government said last month the young men were killed and their bodies burned by a drug cartel in the southern state of Guerrero.
The apparent massacre by a police-backed gang sparked nationwide protests and caused a crisis for President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Students vandalized the car carrying the mayor of the city of Acapulco in protest on Friday.
Only one person has been identified from badly charred remains found in a landfill and family members of the students have demanded further investigations.
The government "has claimed that the issue has cooled down but we reject that idea," Ortega said.
"On the contrary, our spirits are up and we will insist that justice is done."
Source: Agence France Presse
Cuba Seizures Now Present Opportunities
By FRANCES ROBLES
DEC. 21, 2014
MIAMI — It was a routine Saturday morning, almost two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, when Lois and Roy Schechter went to check on their tobacco farm 100 miles west of their home in Havana.
The American couple encountered soldiers posted outside their property.
“My husband got out of the car, exchanged a few words with the soldiers, got back in the car, and we drove away,” Mrs. Schechter, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., recalled of that day in October 1960. “Things were getting scary, and there was nothing else we could do.”
After nearly 60 years in the country, the Schechter family fled and never returned.
The Schechter family farm in Pinar del Río became one of almost 6,000 properties owned by American citizens and companies that were confiscated by the Cuban government. With the stroke of a pen or the pointing of a rifle, countless farms, oil refineries, homes, factories and other businesses were nationalized — losses that ultimately led the United States government to prohibit trade with Cuba.
On Wednesday, President Obama announced that the United States will begin normalizing relations with Cuba, bringing the Schechter family a step closer to resolving its decades-old property claims. Although the president did not mention the contentious issue in his announcement, lawyers are scrambling to determine whether normalized relations with Cuba will create an opportunity to get compensation for lost properties now estimated to be worth nearly $7 billion.
Cuba’s gross domestic product is about $68 billion, making cash payouts highly unlikely. But companies interested in foreign investment in Cuba are probably imagining how their settlements could be exchanged for other investment deals, said Robert L. Muse, a Washington lawyer who represents several claimants and watches the issue closely.
“I think a large flare has gone up over the corporate claimants. They are not going to miss it,” Mr. Muse said. “I think it’s unlikely that Coca-Cola’s highest aspiration is to recover a state-of-the-art 1950s bottling plant. If people approach it with the right flexibility, innovation is going to be key.”
The list of claimants includes national hotel chains and an electric company, sugar mill owners and tobacco farmers like the Schechters.
The Schechters lost their farm, a shirt factory and a 17-room home in Marianao, which is now being used as a residence by the Chinese Embassy.
Confiscation of American properties in Cuba began in 1960 after United States oil companies refused to refine Russian crude. Cuba in turn nationalized the oil companies, so the United States refused to buy Cuban sugar. The Schechters lost the farm in October 1960, when Cuba announced it would nationalize all remaining American property on the island.
The retaliatory tit-for-tat that helped begin one of the most enduring Cold War standoffs also resulted in staggering losses for many companies and individuals. At the same time, a policy of redistributing idle land to the masses also meant that Cubans and Americans alike had their holdings seized by the state.
In 1967, the United States government created the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, a quasi-judicial agency within the Department of Justice, to calculate American losses in Cuba. In six years, the commission logged 5,913 claims totaling $1.8 billion.
The American-owned Cuban Electric Company submitted the largest claim, for $267 million. Large corporations with claims included United Fruit, Standard Oil, American Sugar Company and Texaco.
“Those corporations bounced back from their losses,” said Carolyn E. Chester, whose father, a speechwriter for Fulgencio Batista, the leader who was ousted by Mr. Castro, lost land in the Isle of Pines and $250,000 worth of telephone company stock. “These families that lost all their land and all their property, they did not bounce back. I went to junior college and didn’t have riches. When I was a little girl, all my life I heard, ‘When the embargo ends, we will get paid for our losses.’ ”
The United States trade embargo against Cuba prohibits full economic trade with the island until those claims are settled. Experts say restoring diplomatic relations is likely to open the door for claims to be resolved sooner, although the Cuban government has expressed no interest in doing so and the embargo remains in place.
Roberta S. Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said registered claims against the Cuban government have always been included in discussions about restoration of diplomatic relations.
“We do not believe those things would be resolved before diplomatic relations would be restored, but we do believe that they would be part of the conversation,” she said last week. “So this is a process, and it will get started right away, but there’s no real timeline of knowing when each part of it will be completed, because it has to be completed by agreement of both governments as you go along.”
The Department of Justice said in a statement on Friday that it was “not yet clear” what effect the policy changes would have on the claims, but that it would “continue to monitor the issue.”
Even Cuban-Americans opposed to Mr. Obama’s rapprochement see opportunity.
“As a pro-democracy activist, this is morally repugnant, disproportionate, possibly illegal and bad for America,” said Nicolás J. Gutiérrez Jr., a Miami consultant who has studied the confiscation issue for decades, referring to the normalization of relations. “Putting that aside, as a member of a family that lost significant property and someone who has worked with claimants for years, it may ironically create opportunities.”
Mr. Gutiérrez noted the Foreign Claims Commission was available only to property owners who were American citizens at the time of the confiscation. Cubans who later became American citizens were excluded, which could allow them to negotiate on more favorable terms, while the State Department negotiates on behalf of American claimants, he said.
About 15 percent of the confiscated land is in the hands of cooperatives. Small farmers use about 2 percent, and large Cuban state corporations control much of the rest, he said.
“It’s not like we’re going to take this property back from potentially good guys or little guys,” Mr. Gutiérrez said. “When the government crumbles, the legitimate owners should have a chance to get their properties back, put them in production or give them to someone who can.”
Teo Babún, whose consulting firm tried unsuccessfully to register Cuban-American losses, said experts had spent years studying reparation models used in other countries, including Vietnam and Nicaragua. In post-unification Germany, a temporary commission of judges and lawyers put all the claims into a pool and then negotiated them one by one, often making deals with investors.
“I think a lot of larger corporate entities in Cuba are thinking that at the appropriate time, they will go to Cuba and negotiate one on one,” Mr. Babún said.
Frank O. Mora, a former Obama administration official who now heads the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University, warned against too much optimism. Aside from a prisoner swap last week, he said, all the other major policy changes were unilateral decisions by Washington.
“You need two sides to play, and the Cubans have not agreed to anything,” Mr. Mora said. “There is no indication that the Cubans in the near future are going to sit down and negotiate.”
Last week’s announcement was also closely watched by companies with Cuba-related trademark disputes.
Although companies were allowed to register trademarks despite the embargo, they could not renew them without a special license, which meant some trademarks lapsed, setting the stage for future litigation, said Jorge Espinosa, a Miami lawyer who represents firms that register trademarks in Cuba.
A 1998 law made it illegal to register a trademark that belonged to an expropriated company. With that law on Bacardi’s side, in 2012 the United States Supreme Court let stand a lower-court ruling in favor of the company in a decades-long dispute with the French firm Pernod Ricard over the use of the Havana Club brand.
Pernod Ricard has a joint venture with the Cuban government and took the Havana Club name when Bacaradi’s registration lapsed. After the court loss, Pernot Ricard came up with a new name, “Havanista,” for the identical product, ready for the American market should the embargo be lifted.
“What I can tell you is that the day the embargo is lifted, we will become the first company to send boxes of genuine Cuban rum to the United States,” Pernod Ricard’s spokesman, Olivier Cavil, said by telephone from France on Sunday. “The question is whether it will be named Havana Club or Havanista is the point. Havanista for sure — it’s registered. Havana Club is a question mark for the moment.”
Amazonian tribe take initiative to protect their lands from dam project
The Munduruku Indians are gaining support as they fight the Brazilian government to stop their territory being submerged
Sue Branford in Sawré Muybu
Monday 22 December 2014 11.38 GMT
After years of waiting for the Brazilian government to sort out their land rights, the 13,000 Munduruku Indians, who live beside the Tapajós river in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, have decided to take action. Besides temporarily occupying an office belonging to Funai, the Brazilian government’s Indian agency, they have started to demarcate the boundaries of the land they claim.
The dispute is over one of their main areas – a territory of 178,000 hectares (440,000 acres) around the village of Sawré Muybu. Funai promised them rights to this land 13 years ago.Juarez Saw, the cacique (chief) of Sawré Muybu, said: “We are tired of going to Brasília [Brazil’s federal capital] and getting nowhere.”
In September, a group of Munduruku made one last attempt to put pressure on the authorities. Making another long journey to Brasilia, they met Maria Augusta Assirati, then president of Funai. In an exchange filmed by one of the Indians on his mobile phone, Assirati conceded: “You are right. It is essential that your land is guaranteed because the land is under pressure from loggers, miners and a series of other elements.”
However, in a tacit admission that she was being sidelined, Assirati added: “But I can’t dictate the priority interests of the government.” Nine days later, she left office. A few weeks after that, the Munduruku started the long process of digging posts in the ground to mark out their land.
The Sawré Muybu land is contentious because it affects the government’s plans to build a hydroelectric power station at São Luiz do Tapajós. Now that the giant plant of Belo Monte on the Xingu river is nearing completion, government attention has moved west, to the Tapajós, where it plans to build five large plants.
If the São Luiz do Tapajós dam goes ahead, most of the Sawré Muybu land will be flooded. If the Indians are granted rights to this land, to which they are entitled under Brazilian law, the government is in a predicament. Under Brazil’s progressive constitution, approved in 1988 in the first flush of democratic enthusiasm after two decades of military rule, Indians can be removed from their land only after authorisation by Congress and only “in the case of a catastrophe or an epidemic that puts at risk the population or the sovereignty of the country”. Even then, the Indians must be allowed to return once the risk is over.
Building dams results in more deforestation, and deforestation is the main cause of reduced rainfall in the Amazon
At stake is a fundamental clash over the nature of development. The government has long argued that it needs to unlock the huge hydroelectric potential in the Amazon to provide energy for mining and other activities. Plans have been drawn up to turn almost all the rivers in the eastern two-thirds of the Brazilian Amazon region into reservoirs for hydropower.
But the Indians, other traditional communities and ecologists have long argued that real development benefits local communities and biodiversity, instead of destroying them. They are now receiving support from the scientific community. Antonio Donato Nobre, a leading climate scientist, recently spent three months reviewing scientific literature on the Amazon. He was “profoundly shocked” by what he learned. Climate change is no longer a prediction; it is happening now. “We are heading for the abattoir,” he says.
Nobre told the Guardian that hydropower expansion was a grave mistake. “Building dams opens the way for more deforestation, and deforestation is the main cause of reduced rainfall in the Amazon and elsewhere. Without forests the rain will end. What’s the point of building dams?” What Brazil should be undertaking now is a massive programme of replanting native forests, he says.
What angers Nobre is that alternatives are readily available. “Some 70% of peak-hour electricity consumption comes from showers. If all Brazilians used solar-powered water heaters, we would not need to build more hydroelectric dams in the Amazon.”
Nobre’s message may have gained resonance because of this year’s severe drought in São Paulo, the country’s economic powerhouse. This was largely caused by the unexpected absence of the “flying rivers”, which each year bring down a huge amount of moisture from the Amazon. Their disappearance has been linked by scientists to deforestation both in the Amazon and in the south-east of the country.
Peru's drive to stamp out people trafficking undermined by high growth
Inequality in south American country blamed for trade that involves a disproportionate number of indigenous girls and women
Sam Jones in Lima
Monday 22 December 2014 07.00 GMT
Efforts to help thousands of trafficked children and adults in Peru are being undermined by a strong economy, enduring social and ethnic inequalities, and a lack of awareness, the head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in the country has warned.
José Iván Dávalos, the IOM’s head of mission in Peru, said that despite increasing political will to tackle human trafficking, progress was being thwarted by the assumption that the upper-middle-income country – which had a GDP growth rate of 5.8% last year – no longer needs help from NGOs and international agencies.
“It’s a bit complicated in Peru because it seems surprising a country that has such high growth levels should still need assistance,” he said. “Faced with such growth, [agencies] are choosing to move out and go to Bolivia or Haiti. Peru has become a victim of its own success – but you need to know how to measure success. As Mark Twain said, ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics’.”
Dávalos – who has worked in Afghanistan, Angola, Croatia and Haiti among other countries – said economic averages simply did not give a complete picture of the challenges facing many of Peru’s 30.4 million inhabitants.
“Here in Lima you can find restaurants to rival Manhattan, but you can also find places that are more like Mogadishu,” he said. “There are places in Lima where the police won’t go but there are also places where you can eat the best piece of fish in the world. Often agencies look at Peru and say, ‘No. You don’t need anything.’”
Dávalos said people trafficking in Peru – which tends to involve a disproportionate number of indigenous girls and women – is concentrated in the south of the country in such areas as Cusco and Madre de Dios, which is home to thousands of illegal gold mines.
“The girls and women who are trafficked are usually indigenous; their ethnicity makes them especially vulnerable,” he said. “If you’re a girl or a woman and you’re poor and indigenous, you’re far more likely to fall victim to trafficking.”
The Global Slavery Index 2014 estimated that there are 66,300 people in modern slavery in Peru – 0.2182% of the population. Peru comes sixth on the list of countries in the Americas where people are in slavery, behind Haiti, Suriname, Guyana, Mexico and Colombia.
According to Dávalos, the traffickers’ jobs are often made easier because many parents take it for granted that their children should be working.
“There are families that facilitate it,” he said. “Sometimes when agencies go out to find and rescue trafficked girls from exploitation they are stopped by the families themselves. Very often their mothers and fathers see it as their children’s contribution to the family; they can’t understand why people would want to take that income away from them.”
The organisation has used theatre groups and comic books to try to change attitudes by educating adults and children about the realities of people trafficking. Between May 2012 and September this year, it operated the Caravana de la vida (Life Caravan) project in Madre de Dios, an initiative under which a mobile health clinic takes medical teams into remote villages. As well as providing basic health services such as triage, dentistry and obstetrics, the initiative allowed the organisation to identify and help those who are trafficked into the region to work as labourers or in the sex trade. The IOM also worked with the regional government to develop a plan for combating people trafficking.
“The Life Caravan was a way of raising awareness,” said Dávalos. “It was designed with two simple aims: to protect people and to prevent trafficking. The programme allowed us to detect potential victims of human trafficking because you can’t just roll up in a truck that has ‘Fighting People Trafficking’ on the side. If you do that, you’re likely to get attacked and killed.”
What the IOM could not do, he added, was punish the perpetrators: “Prosecuting offenders is a matter for the police and the state, not us.”
While Dávalos praised the Peruvian government for the introduction of anti-trafficking legislation, he said more money needed to be spent tackling the issues.
“People trafficking is a very, very sensitive topic in Peru,” he said. “Although it’s a delicate subject, there are fortunately some ministries and other agencies who are working to combat it. [But] the government’s fund for fighting people trafficking is 0.00006% of the total budget allocation.”
He added that people trafficking is often not one of major concerns in a country where memories of terrorism and hyperinflation are still vivid. According to a recent crime survey, Peruvians are more worried about contract killings, corruption, extortion, kidnapping, bribery and drug trafficking than the trade in human beings.
But Dávalos said that inequality lay at the heart of everything. “People trafficking is rooted in poverty and a lack of opportunity,” he said. “It’s hard to admit it, but that’s the truth. That’s where the state comes in. There must be ways of distributing wealth equally and that means long-term national plans and more political will at higher levels.”
In the meantime, the IOM will continue trying to find and help victims of human trafficking despite the familiar economic obstacles.
“While some communities respond very well, there are others that hide their children away from visitors,” he said. “It’s a structural issue; some people say: ‘If the state can’t help me, I’ll have to put my family to work’.”
The Christian Science Monitor
Science dubs Rosetta breakthrough of year: Space sweeps 2014 science stories
The American Association for the Advancement of Science and its journal Science labeled the successful touchdown of the Rosetta’s Philae Lander on a comet the scientific breakthrough of the year. Many of the year's top science stories hailed from the great beyond.
By Noelle Swan, Staff writer December 19, 2014
Between landing a spacecraft on a comet 300 million miles away and the rebirth of the American shuttle program with a heavy assist from private industry, 2014 is shaping up to be a historic year for space exploration.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science and its flagship journal Science dubbed the successful touchdown of the Rosetta’s Philae Lander on the comet known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasiemenko as the scientific breakthrough of the year in Friday's issue of the journal.
“Much of the world held its breath while Philae made its descent and then bounced in the microgravity before landing in a less-than-ideal locale for recharging its solar panels,” Marcia McNutt, the journal’s editor-in-chief, wrote in an editorial. “For this historic first, we are happy to select the Rosetta mission as Science’s Breakthrough of the Year for 2014.”
The journal’s annual list of the year’s Top 10 scientific achievements also includes the discovery of 45,000-year-old cave art in Indonesia, a series of breakthroughs in decoding the evolutionary pathways between dinosaurs and birds, and advances in robotics that allow thousands of small machines to work in concert.
However, space stories have dominated science headlines for much of the year, despite the gutting of NASA budgets in the United States. The European Space Agency and private corporations have eagerly stepped in to fill the gap, and the public has been happy cast their imaginations heavenward.
Throughout the year, Monitor readers flocked again and again to stories from the great beyond. Here’s a recap of five of the top space stories on csmonitor.com.
Readers couldn’t get enough of the Philae’s historic landing on a comet hurtling through space, from an unforeseen bounce off the surface of the comet, to the little lander’s race against time to transmit as much data as possible before its solar-powered batteries ran out. Check out the Monitor recap of the mission’s accomplishments.
Between supermoons, blood moons, and lunar eclipses, captivating photos of Earth’s only satellite routinely dominated headlines and Twitter feeds throughout the year.
Images beamed to Earth from NASA’s Curiosity Rover have offered never-before-seen glimpses of Mars. In addition to hints that water once flowed on the Red Planet, readers have been fascinated by some rather unusual Martian rock formations, including one that looked like a ball and another that resembled a thigh bone.
The successful test flight of Orion on Dec. 5 represented not just the return of the US space shuttle program, but also the first step toward one day sending manned spacecraft to Mars.
Public interest in outer space has fueled the rise of a brand new industry: private space exploration. However, the burgeoning industry has suffered several setbacks this year, most notably the tragic Oct. 31 crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, during which one pilot was killed and another seriously injured.
The Christian Science Monitor
Mars tech: from ion thrusters to laser communications
NASA will need new technologies to get humans to Mars. Some of those technologies have more terrestrial applications as well.
By Pete Spotts December 20, 2014
Rockets leaving launchpads are the most visible signs that a deep-space human exploration program is under way.
But those missions are the result of behind-the-scenes engineering that provides new technologies. To get humans to Mars, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is going to have to develop a variety of new technologies. But these technologies can also be used for other purposes, such as robotic science missions or more-advanced commercial satellites, says James Reuther, deputy associate administrator of programs in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
For now, the development of the technologies is being prioritized based on their near-term applications beyond sending humans to Mars, Dr. Reuther says. The wider a technology’s potential appeal, the sooner it’s likely to be tested and fielded.
Among the technologies in development:
Ion thrusters. How are you going to get cargo to Mars? One idea is to use powerful solar-electric propulsion systems to power craft that would carry cargo, including habitat modules. The approach uses electricity from solar panels to power a thruster that ionizes a gas such as xenon or oxygen, then accelerates and expels those ions, generating thrust. The approach is five to 10 times more efficient than comparable chemical rockets, allowing missions to pack less fuel and more cargo.
The technology is already powering NASA’s Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. A variant of this technology, known as Hall thrusters, is built into communications satellites to keep them in place in their orbits.
But human space exploration demands more powerful thrusters and larger solar panels than have been used to date. New solar arrays are under construction for a demonstration mission in 2018, Reuther says, with a more powerful thruster ready for a demonstration mission in 2018 or 2019.
Laser communication. Radio communication won’t be enough for manned Mars missions. It doesn’t carry the volume of data anticipated for such missions, and it consumes too much power. Currently, radio transmissions carry about 20 megabytes of data per second. That will need to increase by 10 to 100 times.
NASA has been testing laser communication technology. In January 2013, researchers beamed an image of the “Mona Lisa” to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on the moon. Crews on the International Space Station also have been testing laser communications between the ISS and stations on Earth. The next step is to use a satellite in geostationary orbit to relay optical communications to and from Earth. That test could come in 2018 or 2019. NASA currently is planning to test the system from deep space on one of its Discovery-class unmanned missions by 2022.
Landing systems. To land humans on Mars, scientists need to develop new approaches. In short, current landing systems used for robotic missions couldn’t handle the much more massive vehicles that would be needed for manned missions. The entry, descent, and landing system used to deposit the Curiosity rover after its “seven minutes of terror” in the Martian atmosphere delivered
1 metric ton to the surface. Crewed missions to Mars would be on the order of 10 million to 100 million metric tons, Reuther notes.
It may be 2030 before the technologies needed to do that have been fully demonstrated and are deemed ready for prime time.
New York Times calls for Cheney, Bush officials to be investigated and prosecuted for torture
22 Dec 2014 at 01:38 ET
In a blistering editorial published in the Monday edition of the New York Times, the editorial page editors are calling upon the Justice Department to open an investigation into the torture practices committed during the administration of President George W. Bush with an eye towards prosecuting those who “committed torture and other serious crimes,” along with former Vice President Dick Cheney and other major administration officials.
Under a headline reading, “Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses,” the board criticizes the administration of current President Barrack Obama for failing “to bring to justice anyone responsible for the torture of terrorism suspects,” during the period following the attack on 9/11.
The editorial notes that the American Civil Liberties Union will present a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. on Monday calling for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate what appears to be “a vast criminal conspiracy, under color of law, to commit torture and other serious crimes.”
Saying it is hard to imagine the current administration “having the political courage” to order an investigation, the board calls for a full investigation that will include major figures in the the Bush administration, including Cheney, and former CIA director George Tenet.
“…any credible investigation should include former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos,” the editorial reads. “There are many more names that could be considered, including Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of the videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; and the C.I.A. employees who carried out that regimen.”
The call for the Justice Department to proceed follows the release of the so-called ‘Torture Report,’ released over a week ago.
Noting confirmation of reports of “rectal feeding,” waterboarding, detainees hung by their wrists, confined to coffins, beaten, and threatened with death, the board calls the acts criminal offenses.
“These are, simply, crimes. They are prohibited by federal law, which defines torture as the intentional infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” They are also banned by the Convention Against Torture, the international treaty that the United States ratified in 1994 and that requires prosecution of any acts of torture,” they write.
The board concludes, “Starting a criminal investigation is not about payback; it is about ensuring that this never happens again and regaining the moral credibility to rebuke torture by other governments. Because of the Senate’s report, we now know the distance officials in the executive branch went to rationalize, and conceal, the crimes they wanted to commit. The question is whether the nation will stand by and allow the perpetrators of torture to have perpetual immunity for their actions.”
Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
DEC. 21, 2014
Since the day President Obama took office, he has failed to bring to justice anyone responsible for the torture of terrorism suspects — an official government program conceived and carried out in the years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
He did allow his Justice Department to investigate the C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes of torture sessions and those who may have gone beyond the torture techniques authorized by President George W. Bush. But the investigation did not lead to any charges being filed, or even any accounting of why they were not filed.
Mr. Obama has said multiple times that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” as though the two were incompatible. They are not. The nation cannot move forward in any meaningful way without coming to terms, legally and morally, with the abhorrent acts that were authorized, given a false patina of legality, and committed by American men and women from the highest levels of government on down.
Americans have known about many of these acts for years, but the 524-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report erases any lingering doubt about their depravity and illegality: In addition to new revelations of sadistic tactics like “rectal feeding,” scores of detainees were waterboarded, hung by their wrists, confined in coffins, sleep-deprived, threatened with death or brutally beaten. In November 2002, one detainee who was chained to a concrete floor died of “suspected hypothermia.”
These are, simply, crimes. They are prohibited by federal law, which defines torture as the intentional infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” They are also banned by the Convention Against Torture, the international treaty that the United States ratified in 1994 and that requires prosecution of any acts of torture.
So it is no wonder that today’s blinkered apologists are desperate to call these acts anything but torture, which they clearly were. As the report reveals, these claims fail for a simple reason: C.I.A. officials admitted at the time that what they intended to do was illegal.
In July 2002, C.I.A. lawyers told the Justice Department that the agency needed to use “more aggressive methods” of interrogation that would “otherwise be prohibited by the torture statute.” They asked the department to promise not to prosecute those who used these methods. When the department refused, they shopped around for the answer they wanted. They got it from the ideologically driven lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, who wrote memos fabricating a legal foundation for the methods. Government officials now rely on the memos as proof that they sought and received legal clearance for their actions. But the report changes the game: We now know that this reliance was not made in good faith.
No amount of legal pretzel logic can justify the behavior detailed in the report. Indeed, it is impossible to read it and conclude that no one can be held accountable. At the very least, Mr. Obama needs to authorize a full and independent criminal investigation.
The American Civil Liberties Union is to give Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. a letter Monday calling for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate what appears increasingly to be “a vast criminal conspiracy, under color of law, to commit torture and other serious crimes.”
The question everyone will want answered, of course, is: Who should be held accountable? That will depend on what an investigation finds, and as hard as it is to imagine Mr. Obama having the political courage to order a new investigation, it is harder to imagine a criminal probe of the actions of a former president.
But any credible investigation should include former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos. There are many more names that could be considered, including Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of the videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; and the C.I.A. employees who carried out that regimen.
One would expect Republicans who have gone hoarse braying about Mr. Obama’s executive overreach to be the first to demand accountability, but with one notable exception, Senator John McCain, they have either fallen silent or actively defended the indefensible. They cannot even point to any results: Contrary to repeated claims by the C.I.A., the report concluded that “at no time” did any of these techniques yield intelligence that averted a terror attack. And at least 26 detainees were later determined to have been “wrongfully held.”
Starting a criminal investigation is not about payback; it is about ensuring that this never happens again and regaining the moral credibility to rebuke torture by other governments. Because of the Senate’s report, we now know the distance officials in the executive branch went to rationalize, and conceal, the crimes they wanted to commit. The question is whether the nation will stand by and allow the perpetrators of torture to have perpetual immunity for their actions.