Sunday, July 19, 2009

Some notes on the movie "New York"

New York (IMDB): starring John Abraham, Katrina Kaif, Imran Khan, Neil Nitin Mukesh.

The movie depicts FBI detainees undergoing Abu Ghraib-type torture and including water-boarding, and confinement in an extremely tiny space.

What we do know is that overseas, the FBI was initially engaged in interrogations of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, along with the CIA and Department of Defense. FBI agents were shocked by what they witnessed and actually opened war crimes files for their fellow interrogators. But the Ashcroft Department of Justice/John Yoo Office of Legal Counsel (that advises the President) told the FBI that these practices were legal and authorized. The FBI then closed the war crimes files, but also instructed its agents to discontinue their participation in these interrogations.

You can listen to a discussion of the Inspector-General's report on this subject on the Brian Lehrer show of May 23, 2008. You can hear John Miller, Deputy Director, FBI, asserting that the FBI follows the same pre-9/11 rules both in the US and overseas.

So the movie points a finger at the wrong US government agency.


The second thing I want to point out is that there is a strong if not easily visible connection between the government adherence to the law and respect for human rights and liberty. The Bush administration broke laws that originated with the US Congress; broke laws that originated with ratified international treaties, that as per the Constitution, are as binding as any law Congress makes; and violated a longstanding tradition that the US did not torture its prisoners even in moments of great stress - during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II. It is not that the law wasn't broken before by the US government; but rather that it was never broken as a matter of national policy, authorized by the President and the Department of Justice.


A minor point - the Department of Justice are not the President's lawyers. They are supposed to be an independent agency, and the Attorney-General is the chief law enforcement officer. For any politician to try to interfere with a determination of what to investigate would itself be a violation of the law. In that sense, President Obama can only express his wish that no Bushies be prosecuted for breaking the law, but it is not binding on the Department of Justice. The President's lawyers are the members of the Office of Legal Counsel.