TOM PUTNAM: I’m Tom Putman, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. And on behalf of my Library colleagues, I welcome you to tonight’s special forum to commemorate International Human Rights Day and the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Let me begin by thanking all of those who have helped to make our forums possible, beginning with our lead sponsor Bank of America, represented here tonight by Massachusetts President Robert Gallery, the Lowell Institute, Boston Capital, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, the Boston Foundation, and our media sponsors The Boston Globe, NECN and WBUR, which broadcasts Kennedy Library Forums on Sunday evenings.
A few weeks from now when President-Elect Barack Obama delivers his Inaugural Address, the nation and the world will listen closely to what he has to say about the role the United States should play in promoting and protecting human rights at home, and around the world. I used those last words deliberately for in an upcoming exhibit on the writing of President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, our museum will display a number of never-before-seen documents to recount the behind the scenes stories of how that historic speech was crafted, including documents which demonstrate that the last major change was to this famous line, “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness, or permit, the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”
Tonight’s forum will focus on what many would claim has been the slow undoing of our country’s commitment to human rights and what our next President might do and say to reverse that course. In her masterful new book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, Jane Mayer writes, “Seven years after Al-Qaeda’s attacks on America as the Bush administration slips into history, it is clear that what began on September 11, 2001 as a battle for America’s security became and continues to be a battle for the country’s soul.”
Before becoming a staff writer for The New Yorker, Jane Mayer was a writer, editor, and the first female White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. In 1983, as a young rookie war reporter, she was rocked out of her bed by the suicide bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. The horror that she witnessed that day planted the seed for a story she’s been covering ever since about the clash between American idealism and the war against terrorism. Ms. Mayer’s new book, which was recently chosen by The New York Times as one of the top ten books of the year, along with others mentioned in this introduction, are on sale in our store. They make timely holiday gifts, [laughter] and our panelists would be happy to sign your copies at the conclusion of the forum.
The last time James Traub spoke at the Kennedy Library our focus was his book, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power. A contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, he was previously a staff writer for The New Yorker and has also had articles published in Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Republic. He’s the author of a number of books, including most recently The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did) in which he argues that spreading democracy must mean more than encouraging newly democratic nations to hold elections, but must also include supporting a political infrastructure based on the rule of law, individual freedoms, checks and balances, and a civilian control of security forces.
As President of Human Rights First, Michael Posner has helped to advance a rights-based approach to national security, to challenge crimes against humanity, and to protect refugees. Throughout a 30-year career advancing the cause of human rights, he has played a key role in advocating for the first U.S. law providing for political asylum and participated in negotiations which led to the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. He’s also been a prominent voice in support of humane working conditions in factories around the globe and helped launch the End Torture Now Campaign, challenging U.S. policies that allow for coercive interrogation techniques and unlimited secret detentions in the War on Terror.
Before his election to Congress to represent Massachusetts Third District in 1996, Jim McGovern spent 14 years working as a senior aide for Representative Joe Moakley, who dispatched Mr. McGovern to lead a congressional investigation into the murders of six Jesuit priests and two laywomen in El Salvador in 1989. Since that time, with the same vigor that drives his advocacy for high quality schools, affordable healthcare, and a cleaner environment, Congressman McGovern has become a leading champion of human rights. He’s the co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, a bipartisan organization that identifies and works to alleviate human rights abuses worldwide, and advocates for the U.S. to take the lead in supporting the cause of human rights around the globe. Congressman McGovern, we’re especially honored by your presence here tonight, and we thank you for your efforts in this great cause.
Our moderator this evening is my friend and colleague, Ambassador John Shattuck, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor under President Clinton. In that role, he helped lead the efforts to end the war in Bosnia, to negotiate the Dayton Peace Agreement, to establish the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and to restore a democratically elected government to Haiti. A former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic, he’s also the author of Freedom on Fire: Human Rights Wars and America’s Response. As CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, John has, in ways too numerous to mention, shined the spotlight of this institution on one of the central elements of John F. Kennedy’s legacy, promoting human rights at home and throughout the world.
The questions confronting President-Elect Obama are as old as our Republic, stretching back to the earliest President from Massachusetts, John Adams, and the controversial Alien and Sedition Act, and his son John Quincy Adams, who Jane Mayer quotes in the opening of The Dark Side: “America should not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” Quincy Adams argued, “lest it become the dictratress of the world and no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”
Please join me in welcoming our distinguished panel to the Kennedy Library to discuss how our nation can best reclaim that spirit, protecting ourselves and others from global terrorism while upholding our nation’s founding commitment to human rights. [applause]
JOHN SHATTUCK: Thank you, Tom. I can’t resist starting this discussion that should be fascinating -- and all the people to my left are going to make it so -- by observing that -- I think it was now 16 years ago -- I was put through some very intense tutorials on human rights because I was getting ready to go into the government as the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights. And the man all the way to my left was my chief tutor, Mike Posner. And all the other panelists here would have offered very strong tutorial advice. So anyone out there who’s interested in serving in this position, I can recommend it to you, I think. But listen closely because you’ve got some good tutors up here, and also, all around this room. As I look out, there are some extraordinary human rights experts here.
We are one day away from celebrating the 60th Anniversary of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Tomorrow is that day. And, as Tom indicated in his introduction, 12 years after The Universal Declaration was adopted, President Kennedy became the first President to put human rights at the center of his Inaugural Address. And I think those lines that, Tom, you quoted, are so powerful that I’m going to quote them again because I think they really resonate to what the challenges are today. “Let the word go forth that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”
Now, if President Obama is going to make, as we certainly hope he does, a similar commitment in his Inaugural Address, he faces some very major challenges in order to be able to meet that commitment. And these are not challenges of his own creation, but they are challenges, certainly, that he’s inheriting. And I think, certainly, as you look at public opinion around the world in terms of the way the U.S. is perceived on human rights, we’re now widely perceived to be a violator of human rights. A BBC poll conducted last year in 18 countries, on all continents revealed that 67% disapproved of the U.S. detention and interrogation practices in Guantanamo. Other polls reflected similar, very disturbing, public opinion around the world of a country that has often thought of itself as a principle promoter of human rights.
So I really want to start our discussion here by turning to Jane Mayer, who has really written, as you all know and I will keep shamelessly promoting it to you, this extraordinary book The Dark Side, where, Jane, you’ve really taken us into what it is that’s happened over these last eight years on human rights in the context of the War on Terror, as it is called. And I wonder if you could just sort of summarize for us the kind of damage that has been done to human rights. I mean you have some powerful examples, and you can use a few of them. But just give us … set the stage by telling us where we are on this subject today.
JANE MAYER: Almost where to begin is the problem. I would like to point out that this book is sort of stocking-stuffer-size, too, so fits in very nicely. If there’s too much “Ho, Ho, Ho” in your Christmas you can read about the dark side. So where are we? Well, we are at a point where Canada actually declared us a rogue nation-state and put us on their list of torture states, at one point, until the United States prevailed to get us off that list.
We’re at the point where the President for life in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, has cited American interrogation policies as proof that what they do in Egypt is right, and they’re on the right course, and that military trials and tribunals are the way to go. There was one poll recently where they tried to see which countries around the world where the population supported us on the War on Terror. And the only countries where we had popular support were Russia and India.
We know that, meanwhile, Osama Bin Laden is still at large. Ayman Zawahiri, his right hand, is still at large. The most recent national intelligence report that came out from the intelligence community in Washington says that, “We’re in a less safe place than we were a few years ago even after 9/11, and that if we are going to continue to radicalize young Muslims at the rate that we have been and turn them towards Jihad at the rate that we have been, we’re cruising towards a very much more dangerous spot.”
Meanwhile, we’ve got obvious problems that Obama is about to inherit. He’s got just dozens of people whose rights have been violated when they were taken outside of the rule of law to places like black prison sites run by the CIA, and to Guantanamo, where we really don’t know how to bring them back inside the rule of law and what to do with them. There are dozens of people down in Guantanamo who, if they were given defense attorneys, would be able to argue that their rights have been so violated they couldn’t be tried at this point in any normal court. Yet, some of them are very dangerous people.
And it’s a horrible mess that Obama is going to inherit. And meanwhile, we’ve got a dozen and a half CIA officers on trial in absentia, in Italy, in London. The British government has just opened a criminal investigation into the treatment by the CIA of a British subject, Benyam Mohammed. And so you’re beginning to see even some of our allied countries are taking kind of criminal investigative steps towards the treatment of detainees during these years. And, obviously, there are a number of people, critics who think there should be some sort of prosecutions for war crimes, or at least some type of investigation that should take place. So we’re at a crossroads. We’re at a place where lots can change, I think. I’m actually fairly optimistic, given where we’ve been, that we’ve got a new President who’s a constitutional lawyer, who I think understands that America has a very honorable role in the world on these issues that started really with George Washington when the first British captives were taken. He made clear that we wanted to treat them more humanely than the way the British treated us. And since that point, the United States has really tried to take and blaze the high road in the treatment of prisoners and particularly prisoners of war. So I think we’ve got a lot to do. We’ve got a great and honorable history. I think we’re finally turning a corner and on the road to repair.
SHATTUCK: Well, your book sets out how we got here. And I think seeing this agenda, it’s a rather daunting one. I think there needs to be about ten or 15 Assistant Secretaries of State for Human Rights. And I wish them luck.
MAYER: Will you be one of them?
SHATTUCK: I will not be one of them, but I will be happy to give them the benefit of whatever wisdom I may have. Let me turn to Mike Posner. Mike, you’re really in the business, and have been for a long time, of making recommendations to the administration, various administrations, on human rights. And as I said, I was the frequent beneficiary of your recommendations, which were very thoughtful when I was in the government. Take us into one of the issues that Jane has identified. Let’s go to Guantanamo and really put that right squarely on the desk of President Obama on day one. What does he do? He’s made a commitment that he would close it. But how does he do this? And what does he do with the prisoners who are there? And what kinds of trials should they have? And who gets released? How will the public react to that?
MIKE POSNER: I think one of the first things, John, that he’s got to do is on day one declare his intention to close Guantanamo without actually acting too quickly. There are 250 people there. The vast majority can probably be repatriated to their home countries, or to a third country. That’s going to take some time. But there are, as Jane says, a number of cases, 30, maybe 50 cases, of people who really are dangerous, and who need to be, in my judgment, in our judgment, prosecuted.
And there is now a kind of debate going on within the Administration, and certainly outside, that says our existing institutions simply aren’t capable of dealing with that. And we reject that. We did a study earlier this year. We had two experienced prosecutors look at 127 cases of Middle East terrorists who were tried in the Federal Courts of the United States. And the record is very, very encouraging. The courts are resilient. They’re able to deal with complicated cases. They’ve done it for a long time. We’ve got to have faith in our institutions.
So I think he’s got to hold his nerve. He’s got to allow a new Attorney General, Eric Holder, months to review all of those cases, to make sensible judgments. But he’s got to be clear that Guantanamo was a terrible mistake. We’ve got to shut down the system. We’ve got to shut down the military commissions. We have to repeal the Military Commissions Act and other legislation, which is really a blot on our tradition and our system. But I think it’s all quite doable if people just keep their calm.
SHATTUCK: Well, it’s doable, but I’m sure it’s controversial. And I think this is going to be a very tough set of political issues, in addition to substantive issues. I want to ask both of our Jims, but starting with Jim Traub, if you could kind of reflect on how much you think the public is going to be willing to support, in terms of the agenda that Mike has put forth.
JAMES TRAUB: Well, John, I know you want me to be contrarian on this subject, but unfortunately …
SHATTUCK: I’m pushing you.
TRAUB: No, I know. My views, alas, are quite similar to Mike’s. When I reflect on the incredibly different national security challenges which Obama is going to inherit when he takes over -- Pakistan, Afghanistan, and everything else you all know -- it actually strikes me that Bush’s appalling human rights record offers him a kind of easy opportunity to do the right thing and not suffer thereby. I mean, it is not going to be a difficult thing for Obama to say on day one, “No torture. And no means no.”
Now Guantanamo, as Mike said, is an extremely difficult problem to carry out. But I think it is not difficult for him to say, “We will close Guantanamo.” And I think the same applies to issues like rendition, and so forth. I think what makes it less problematic is that it’s very hard to make the case that the human rights violations that the Bush Administration has engaged in have been effective on their own terms. That is, if you’re in the position of arguing, “You know, it’s true that torturing people does sometimes yield up indispensable information of immediate use which cannot be otherwise obtained. Nevertheless, we find it morally repugnant, and we’re not going to do it.”
That’s a hard case to argue, but it’s not the case. It’s not the case. And, of course, you look at Guantanamo: it’s been impossible to conduct a trial coming out of Guantanamo. So I actually think that the hard questions that Obama is going to face in this regard may have more to do with, for example, civil liberties issues at home and less with issues like torture. That is to say, questions like, “How should we rewrite The Patriot Act? Which parts should we keep and which parts should we eliminate?” Or think of it in a somewhat broader way. This is our chance to reset our sense of where the proper boundaries between civil liberties and collective security lie after 9/11. Bush had the first chance to do it, and he did it in a way that we all find appalling. But that doesn’t mean the answer is simply to undo it. It means we have to find where those boundaries lie. How much security are we willing to give up? How much surveillance from the National Security Agency are we willing to put up with? Issues like that, those are very hard questions. I actually think some of these human rights ones, as I say, are less difficult.
SHATTUCK: Well, let’s go into the most political branch of government in a way, the Congress. And Jim McGovern, by the way, is one of the great leaders on human rights. He is, as I think Tom Puttnam mentioned, the Chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, succeeding the late Tom Lantos, who was a close and dear friend of many of us here. Jim, looking at this situation, and particularly looking at what the role of the Congress has been, if I can say -- not you, but certainly others in the Congress, being somewhat complicit in the way in which this human rights disaster has unfolded over recent years, particularly on the issue of the Military Commissions Act and some of the ways in which electronic surveillance was authorized broadly.
I mean, tell us what you think that the new Congress will do on some of these topics. And what, if anything, do you think is going to have to be taken up legislatively, as opposed to something Obama and the Administration might do by Executive Order?
JIM MCGOVERN: Well, look, I’m excited about the prospects of President Obama because I think human rights will actually matter again in this country. For the last eight years, human rights has kind of been something that has been ignored and trampled all over. And I think there are a lot of people in Congress, even some people who have been complicit in voting for some of the more egregious proposals of this Administration, I think would welcome the opportunity to change. I think Congress, sadly, has been complicit, in part, because Bush has been very effective at promoting fear. And we’re all political animals here. We all want to get re-elected and a lot of people, I think, were worried that they couldn’t explain back home a “no vote” on some of these things.
I think that changes when the President of the United States is pursuing a very different agenda. And John, you mentioned The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in your opening statement. I mean, one of the things I’m hoping that will happen is that we will view the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one body of rights. It’s not just individual, and political and civil rights, it’s economic, social, and cultural rights. When I visit a human rights defender in Columbia, he’s worried just as much about some child out in the countryside who can’t get clean water, who can’t get enough to eat, as he is about what if he gets shot because of his political views. So we need to get our definition straight. And I think there’ll be an opportunity to do that.
I think Congress will welcome President Obama’s call to close Guantanamo and to end torture. And I think we look forward to working with him to close all the loopholes. Because there are some people out there who I’m sure have more devious minds than all of us combined up here, who have found loopholes on the issue of torture. And we need to make sure when we say, “No torture,” we mean “No torture.”
I also think that human rights will be more of a factor in our military aide policies, and in our foreign aide policies and in our trade policies. I mean, I was happy when I heard Candidate Obama say that he was opposing the Columbia Free Trade Agreement on the basis of human rights. I think that was a very important statement. And it showed where his heart and soul is on this issue.
And I also think that Congress will do its oversight responsibility. I’m not interested in re-fighting old battles, but I think it’s important to establish an accurate historical record. So I think on a lot of these issues that we have already talked about, I think Congress is going to be not only a willing partner, but I think Congress will be excited to work with the new president to move this country in a different direction. Because I think any member of Congress, or any individual in this audience who has traveled overseas in the last few years, you know how our stature has suffered because of our policies. And I think many of us are anxious to kind of rebuild our image and to recapture our soul. And I look forward to doing that.
MAYER: Should I play contrarian for a second? Just to say that I think that it’s not going to be quite so easy to bring us back in the area of how we deal with terrorists back to the pre-9/11 sort of paradigm. And I agree with Michael. I think the courts did a terrific job, actually, even in dealing with terrorism before 9/11. And the record is much better than most people understand, but I think that there are going to be calls for preventive detention.
I think the problem is you don’t have the kind of evidence that can stand up in court when you suspect that somebody might be a terrorist. And there are going to be a lot of issues about who we can hold. Other countries have various kinds of preventive detention. I think there are a lot of issues about who’s an enemy combatant, and whether it’s a war, also. You know it seems easy that you could use our courts here and our criminal system at home. But what do you do when there’s somebody abroad that … And can we still use the predator and just, you know, take out whole groups of people as we have been doing, blowing up both terror suspects and everybody around them?
I mean, these are pretty complicated questions I think both legally, morally, ethically. And if people get scared again -- that’s what I really most worry about is what happens if we have another attack? I really think it’s very important to lay down the ground rules before that happens.
SHATTUCK: Jane, let me just push you a little bit on the issue that’s really at the heart of your book, and it is probably the emblem of American violation of human rights recently, and that’s torture. Because I think the very questions that you ask -- preventive detention and other kinds of issues that may start being pushed in the political arena, torture, at least rhetorically, the debate is settled. But the real question is, “How are you going to make the definitions that are going to actually create the bright lines?” And I know there are some heroic people inside the military who have done this and the army field manual, etc. But severe pain or suffering seems awfully broad. And so how are we going to craft -- I mean, how should Bush -- excuse me, that’s a terrible Freudian slip! -- how should President Obama -- that sounds far better -- craft a policy on interrogations? And I know, Mike, you’ve got some views on this.
MAYER: Well, you know one of the people that I interviewed in this book, who is really one of the heroes of the book, is Alberto Mora, who actually got the John F. Kennedy Profile and Courage Award right here. He was the former General Council of the Navy. And he made a point of saying that the issue shouldn’t just be torture, it should be cruelty. And the state should not be involved in purposefully using cruelty to break down people in our custody who are unarmed. And that when you do that it just transforms the relationship of the person to the government, when our government can start just coercing people and using cruelty.
I think that that is probably the measure. But I have to say, I have talked to lawyers in the Bush administration who spent a lot of time -- they were like the monks trying to figure out how many angels would fit on the pinhead. They were busy thinking about if you use a three pound hammer -- literally, somebody was saying to me, “Is it torture if you use a three pound hammer? Well, how about a six pound hammer? Is it torture to run somebody naked through a public square?” Well, for some people, yes, for other people, it’s being Madonna. I think when you get to that kind of fine point you’ve gone too far. It shouldn’t be so hard, really, I think.
SHATTUCK: Let’s go to Mike because I know you’ve given a lot of thought to this. And how do we resolve it?
POSNER: You know, I think this problem has been over-lawyered. And we’ve got to go back to Scripture. The Golden Rule. Let’s start from the premise that no American official should do anything to anybody in their custody that we wouldn’t expect done to an American citizen in the enemies’ hands. That’s a simple proposition and it …
SHATTUCK: You mean expect? Or obviously, in some enemy hands you’re going to get some pretty awful things done to you.
POSNER: Yeah, that’s right, but we ought to be looking to see what are the kinds of things that if an American soldier or agent is picked up abroad, how are we going to expect them to be treated? And what are the things that we would consider going over the line? We have now a Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Hadden, who talks vividly about telling his agents they have to walk to the line and get chalk on their boots. That’s exactly the wrong way to think about this. They ought to be thinking about not getting near that line.
And, in fact, the premise, as Jane says, if your premise is you need cruelty, official cruelty, to get information, you’re doing the wrong thing not only from a civil liberties point of view, but from a national security point of view. And when you talk to interrogators and you talk to military people, they start from an entirely different premise in saying, “You have to gain the confidence and respect and build a relationship with the people you’re interrogating.” That, ultimately, is going to get better information over a longer period of time. It’s not to say that you don’t occasionally get a good piece of information by being abusive, but it’s not a sensible way to make policy. We’ve got to make a national security argument here that says, “This is essentially the wrong way to protect America.”
TRAUB: If I could add one thing, there’s also a political question which is to say, “What we are overheard talking about matters greatly to the way people view us. And the way people view us matters greatly to our own freedom of action, in the world.” And so when people hear the Bush Administration on the one hand saying to the people of the Middle East that democracy is your birth right, and we will demand that you be able to live in a free, democratic world. And at the same time, hear these public conversations about the angels dancing on the head of a pin, and hear Vice-President Cheney quite publicly saying, “The United States should have the right to do something which any normal person would view as torture,” that conversation was catastrophic for us. And therefore, changing that conversation and saying in an unambiguous way, as Jane said, “It’s not that complicated. We won’t do it,” is a politically powerful thing for us to say.
SHATTUCK: One of my favorite aspects of your book, Jane, is the various quotes that you start your chapters with, in addition to all the material that’s in the chapters, of course. And there’s one chapter that begins with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche. And it struck me as so powerful. I just want to quickly read it. It’s only one sentence. “He who does battle with monsters needs to watch out, lest he in the process becomes a monster himself.” And that’s obviously what we’re talking about here, above all. And I want to shift the conversation a little bit in the interest of time.
We’ve got some other topics we want to cover as well and look at the issue of accountability. How do we deal with those who have become monsters, and who in fact may have committed crimes as a result of that in the field of human rights? This is going to be, I think, a very hot topic for President Obama. There’s talk about truth commissions. There’s obviously a talk about the prospect of possible prosecutions in the Justice Department. But there’s also a great deal of pushback against that. And I thought that maybe Jim McGovern, you might reflect for a moment on this issue of accountability and what should be done in terms of looking back at some of these abuses that have been committed?
MCGOVERN: Well, look, as I said earlier, I think it’s important to establish an accurate historical record. So I do think it is important to go back and to review the record. I think if people have broken the law, they should be held accountable. I mean, that’s not a radical idea. If any of us do something that is illegal, we’ll get arrested, or we’ll be fined. People who do illegal things, even in administrations, should be held accountable. That’s my personal view. I’m not on a witch hunt but I love this country, and I believe in what this country stands for. When people abuse power, or do things that are illegal, they should be held accountable.
Beyond that, I think we should also be looking at … This is an idea that I have kind of stolen from John, listening to him over the years. But, look, when it comes to human rights and our adherence to international declarations of human rights or treaties, there should be some sort of objective entity that kind of gives us a report card, not to be punitive against the United States, but to basically say, “You are not measuring up in this area.” Or, “You’re doing well in this area. You deserve a gold star.” Whatever. But the point of the matter is something that kind of keeps us on the straight and narrow when it comes to respecting human rights, upholding international law, doing the things that everybody expects us to do.
And that, I think, is something that is worth some further discussion with this Administration and with members of Congress. But I do expect there to be oversight hearings in Congress that will go back and look at some of the issues of the Bush Administration. But I don’t want it to be at the expense of moving forward and dealing with some of the issues that we’ve talked about here today, like closing Guantanamo, ending torture, kind of regaining our Constitution by fixing the Patriot Act I and Patriot Act II. So we have a lot to do. I think we need to strike a balance here.
SHATTUCK: Is there anyone on the panel who would like to see something that does look back, whether it be a commission, a truth commission? In South Africa, of course, is famous for their truth commission. This is a very different circumstance, but still the effort to get at the facts of what happened, or even something more prosecutorial in nature. But I’m only putting the question out there, not to suggest the answer. But, Mike, go ahead.
POSNER: Yeah, I think there is a really critical need both for the truth to be told and to be officially acknowledged. I think there probably needs to be some kind of a commission along the lines of a 9/11 commission, executive, congressional, bipartisan, perhaps some retired National Security figures on it. I think they have to have subpoena power. They really have to get at the truth and tell the whole truth. I think we ought to keep open the question about individual prosecutions. That’s going to be a very complicated thing, politically, which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Let’s see where the facts lead us. But I do think the primary objective here is to make sure there’s an official acknowledgement in a way that prevents it from ever happening again. We’ve really done damage to our Constitution and our society. To just let it go and sweep it under the rug, I think, would be a terrible mistake.
SHATTUCK: Yeah, Jane’s book is a bit of a truth commission so …
MAYER: It’s not though, really. I did my best to try to make it that, but what I wanted to say was there’s a lot that we don’t know. And there’s certainly a lot that I don’t know because there are a lot of secrets that you can’t get. Tons of things are classified. I don’t know the names of a number of people. I don’t know who really authorized what in a number of cases. There were homicides. People died in this program and were killed in this program. And there were referrals made to the Justice Department to prosecute those cases, and nothing’s ever happened to them. And we still don’t know a lot of the individuals who were involved. So I think there’s a lot to know. And I can see around me in Washington increasingly people are saying, “Well, we don’t want to look vindictive. And we don’t want to just be caught looking backwards. We’ve got to move forwards.” I don’t think you can really move forward until we clear the air to some extent.
And specifically, I was thinking about the recent controversy over who should run the CIA. And there was a man named John Brennan, who was the leading candidate to become the director of the CIA. And then critics said, “Well, he was involved with torture. And he can’t be Obama’s candidate because he’s tainted.” The problem is, until we know really who did what inside the CIA, everybody’s going to be tainted. The whole upper-echelon of the counter terrorism program was involved in these programs, basically in the torture program. And so you really need to find out who did what and clear the air for those who were not involved. And you can’t really move forward until you can figure this out. I also just think the country deserves to know. And I think accountability is really important as a deterrent because I’ve interviewed people who were inside the CIA who said that they didn’t want to get involved in this program because they knew there’d be congressional hearings, and that there would be criminal, you know, prosecutions, eventually. And they didn’t want to risk it. So if there are no consequences, what kind of message does that send to the next generation of people in the agency?
TRAUB: I want to add one thing that I’ve learned from Jane, actually. Jane and I were on a panel a month or six weeks ago or so. And she was asked, “Who’s the big villain?” And at least part of her answer was, “Us.” Right? And I think that when we talk about the reckoning, the reckoning is not just those bad guys who did bad things. It’s that we were quite willing to have them do bad things. Why was it impossible for a democratic candidate in 2004 -- and really still in 2006 -- to raise the issue of torture? Because it was politically suicidal. It was politically suicidal because in the end many, maybe most Americans, believed that if it takes torture, let’s torture them. And so we have to reckon with the fact that, at a moment of crisis when we felt threatened in a way we had not felt threatened before, we were willing to do things which on reflection we recognize were repugnant. [applause] I was quoting you.
SHATTUCK: No. That was very good. And I want to shift gears. We’ve got, again, so much territory here. We want to get to your questions in about 15 minutes. And I want to now look out at some of the large human rights issues that are not so directly related to the behavior of the United States in the recent past, but to the huge issues that are going to confront the new Administration. And I’d like to start with -- and maybe we won’t get further than this but it’s a very big issue -- the issue of genocide and crimes against humanity, which has been a kind of centerpiece of American human rights advocacy, certainly over the period of my lifetime. And it was certainly a centerpiece of the advocacy that was done in the 1990s.
And look at Darfu, and the question of “What can be done? Should be done? What should be the U.S. Policy?” Not so much in detail toward Darfur, but on the question of intervention, including military intervention, and the support of military intervention to save lives. And is anything like that possible in the near term, following the catastrophic events in Iraq, in the nature of that Iraq intervention? So let me just throw that out there. Maybe Jim McGovern, we might start with you if you don’t mind because you’re right there at the forefront of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. How do you feel about humanitarian intervention, and what would you recommend to President Obama?
MCGOVERN: You know, when I think of Darfur, I think how different things would have been if instead of George Bush giving a speech to the U.N. on Iraq, or Colin Powell trying to sell us on weapons of mass destruction, that they had a call to the world community to come together and do whatever it took to stop the killing and the slaughter in Darfur. But we didn’t do that. And we have missed opportunity, after opportunity, after opportunity, and more and more people have died. And Jim talked about that we need to kind of look inward when it comes to all these issues of torture that have gone on and that we have some responsibility, too. We also, in this case, have some responsibility as well. This is probably the most well-documented genocide ever. I mean 60 Minutes … We have had video tapes. You have had articles. You had books. And the whole world knows every single detail about what is going on. There is no question what is happening there. And, yet, we have been ineffective.
SHATTUCK: Why do you think we’ve been ineffective?
MCGOVERN: Because I think we’ve been bogged down in other places. I think there’s been a question of whether or not the American people really would want us to intervene militarily, if that’s what it took. I think part of it is that it’s a country in Africa that not a lot of people knew about until all of this happened.
SHATTUCK: Sounds like Rwanda.
MCGOVERN: Well, I think there’re a thousand excuses that have kind of all added up. But I do think there’s a moral question here. And that is, “Does the civilized world have a responsibility to intervene when it comes to genocide?” I believe the answer is, “Yes.” And I’ve felt that way for some time. I think that the new President has an obligation to try to do what he can with the United Nations. I think Bush should have done a better job with that. If not, he should have thought of more creative ways, even going to NATO if that is what it took. But this is a genocide. People are being slaughtered.
And I’ll tell you, this country deserved more than a president going to China for the opening of the Olympics to be able to demonstrate that we actually are serious about this. The fact that the President went to the opening of the Olympics when China supports the Government of Sudan, which has been complicit in this killing, I think was a horrific mistake. But I am trusting that this new administration can make this a different kind of priority. And I hope for our sake -- I mean for the people of the Sudan … I visited, by the way, the refugee camps outside of Darfur and Chad. They wouldn’t let me into the country, but I interviewed dozens and dozens of refugees from Darfur, and I will tell you it breaks your heart. And there is nothing that I have seen in my life that has been as terrible as what I saw in those refugee camps. And it’s shameful that the world hasn’t acted.
SHATTUCK: Well, the real question is what … I think that there’s certainly a feeling of failure and an appropriate one, but the question is, “What should be done?” And my friend Susan Rice, who’s going to be the new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., in some of her earliest statements and pronouncements about her feelings on the priorities of the U.S., it really pointed to Darfur. So I know Jim Traub, I know you’re very much involved with an organization that’s engaged in thinking about this. What is your recommendation as a practical matter to President Obama?
TRAUB: Well, I now work half-time as director of policy for something called the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect. And “responsibility to protect” is now kind of official U.N. terminology for what John called humanitarian intervention. It’s a complicated difference which I won’t explain just now. But on the question of Darfur, there may have been the kind of clear, morally straightforward answer that I think Jim was thinking about four years ago in Darfur. There isn’t now. It’s an immensely complicated situation where what used to be the good guys, the folks defending the Darfurians, have now fragmented into half a dozen or more individual militias, all of them bad actors themselves. So the moment when there was something like a humanitarian intervention that was possible is gone.
Similarly, in a place like the Congo where atrocities were taking place, I don’t think it’s possible for us to have a humanitarian intervention. Now having said that, there are a lot of things that can be done with concerted action through diplomacy, through sanctions, peacekeeping, through non-coercive uses of force sometimes. For example, European Union Force could go to the Congo. That’s being talked about. Those things will only happen with a tremendously strong diplomatic push on our part.
And here the problem is not that the Administration has been bad on this. They haven’t. They’ve been bad on Darfur, but other nations have been worse. If you had to rank them, I’d say they probably were the least bad. But the United States has so sacrificed its diplomatic authority in the United Nations that it’s no longer able to accomplish anything. United Nations is now profoundly -- and I say this because I spend a lot of my time there -- deeply poisoned by a kind of bitter north-south split. And it’s not all about the United States, a piece of it is though. And a piece of that’s about the Bush Administration. And so I think the key thing here is that the Obama administration has to restore the United States’ credibility. And reactivate the United Nations and increase the kind of capacity that the United Nations has for concerted action.
SHATTUCK: Mike, do you want to jump in on this? Because, again, I know Human Rights First has been very involved, as has many other human rights organizations, in thinking through right from the United Nations to the administration on Darfur.
POSNER: Yeah, just a couple of added points. One of the things that we’ve been focused on is the proliferation of arms -- small arms -- into the region, not just into Sudan and Darfur but also into Chad. And there’re some 30 countries in the world selling arms. The U.N. has two ineffectual arms embargos directed just at Darfur. It needs to be expanded to the region. And it needs to be enforced. That’s a simple thing that the Obama Administration could push hard on. The biggest arms supplier is China. That’s a hard one. The Russians are there. But lots of the Western Europeans are doing it as well.
MCGOVERN: By the way, we wrote to the Bush administration asking them to do just that.
POSNER: Yeah, and this is the time really to push on that. The second thing is that there is an upcoming, or will be I think, an indictment against Bashir. The U.S. ought to -- and the Bush administration has supported that, but there’s going to be all kinds of diplomatic efforts to derail that. We need to make it clear that the Government of Sudan is an illegitimate government as long as he’s at the head of it. He ought to be personally responsible.
SHATTUCK: That’s a good segue to another major hot button issue that’s going to be on the desk of the Obama administration right off the bat, and that’s the whole issue of international justice, the International Criminal Court, the continuing efforts of the two international tribunals, the one for the former Yugoslavia and the other one for Rwanda to do their work. But above all, the International Criminal Court, which the Bush Administration really has largely gone to war with until recently -- and as Mike just mentioned, they have softened their position because they see the value of international justice in this Darfur context. So what kind of a recommendation should be made to Obama on the International Criminal Court? Is it time to really completely reverse the Bush position and go ahead and agree to enter into the court? Mike?
POSNER: My own judgment would be that we ought to be in a period of informally supporting the ICC, building it up as an institution, laying the ground work for greater understanding in this country of what it’s all about, and moving on a slower track than some of these other things to call for formal U.S. participation. I just think at this moment there’s not enough of a constituency in the United States that understands the ICC. It’s part of a broader engagement in the world. The United States, when it is engaged internationally, can be an enormous force for good. And John, you know that. And we’re so effective at that.
We’ve now taken ourselves out of that equation. We have to bring ourselves back in at the U.N. And with a group like the ICC, I think without formally being a party, we can do an awful lot of good to support the prosecutor and support the court.
SHATTUCK: Well, let me play devil’s advocate for a minute, and bring Jane into this, because I think you can reflect on this question. One of the basic objections to the ICC that’s been given by those who have been opposed to it for a long time is that it could turn its spotlight on the United States. And that it could put in jeopardy people acting in good faith or failure of our judicial system and justice system to adequately deal with issues of human rights crimes in our own country. What do you think, Jane? I know you’re not an expert on the ICC; but on the other hand, it ties very much into what you just said about the fact that we’re all in large measure responsible for what it is that has happened in terms of criminal conduct in the War against Terror.
MAYER: Well, I’m not an expert on the ICC, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there’s universal jurisdiction in the Convention Against Torture, anyway. So that, whether or not we recognize the ICC, there is already the possibility that any of the other countries that have signed the Convention Against Torture can bring charges against U.S. officials when they travel abroad. They can, as was done with Pinochet. And I understand that there’re some places in the world where people are talking about this. In Europe, in Spain, in particular, is one place. And I’ve been told there are some people in the Bush administration that are thinking twice about whether they want to take European vacations. So I think it’s a dynamic that exists whether or not they recognize that court.
SHATTUCK: Well, I think it does show the vibrancy of this concept of international justice. Let me see if Jim wants to get into that.
MCGOVERN: On the International Criminal Court, we have actually, at the suggestion of the Bush administration, put exemptions into the law so that countries that are signatories to the ICC would not go after U.S. military people in exchange for their aid. We’ve built these little kinds of caveats into the law, which I think goes to a point that really bugs the rest of the world, and that is that they think we have -- and they’re right -- a double standard. There’s the standard for everybody else and the standard for us.
And whether it’s with regard to the International Criminal Court or in human rights in general … I mean look, we talked about torture at the very beginning here. If any other country were torturing one of our members of our military or a political prisoner in a country that was our enemy, we would be out there screaming and yelling. Yet, we have some of our closest allies that are engaged in torture. We are engaged in torture. And we’re all supposed to kind of fluff all over this and make-believe it doesn’t exist. So when I travel around the world and talk to people what bothers them most is what they see as a growing double standard.
And I think we need to go back. We need to be consistent. A human rights violation in Cuba is just as bad as a human rights violation in China, as bad as a human rights violation in Colombia, or as bad as a human rights violation in the United States of America. And I think if we can develop that consistency and also properly define what we mean by human rights, as I said in the beginning, I think we’ll be well on our way to helping kind of reestablish our stature around the world.
SHATTUCK: Well, one way to do this is something that you alluded to earlier, Jim, and that is to create something that I was always surprised that we didn’t have, which is a United States Commission on Human Rights, a commission whose function would be a focus on human rights in the United States, in the way in which the U.S. is complying or not complying with its own laws. I don’t know whether anybody here -- maybe Mike, you’d like to jump in on that. And how would we go about setting that up? Is it a good idea? What do you think?
POSNER: Yeah, and I think it’s a great idea and the time has come. As Jim says, we’ve always sort of behaved as though and said we’re sort of the “City on the Hill.” We’ve invented these concepts, and to some extent that’s true. We have a proud tradition. We’ve done a lot of things right in our own system. But we’ve been absolutely unwilling to allow any kind of external scrutiny or any kind of evaluation of our own record, even within our own society in international human rights terms.
We’re the only country in the world that makes that division between international human rights, and civil rights and civil liberties. To everybody else in the world that’s one subject. And so it’s really time we join the world. We’ve lost our swagger. We used to feel self-confident. We used to feel we could do things right. I think we ought to be proud of our institutions, but also strong enough to accept the notion that we can do better. And others can, in fact, help us get there.
MCGOVERN: Let me also suggest a different form of scrutiny that we can accept. In 2006, when the U.N. formed new Human Rights Council out of what used to be the Human Rights Commission, we chose not to join. It turned out to maybe not be such a bad decision because the Human Rights Council has been even more toothless than the Human Rights Commission was. Nevertheless, the one possibility of making it a useful instrument is if we were willing to join, if we pushed hard to make it useful, and if we said that we too accept -- in just the way that both Jim and Mike said -- we too accept the legitimacy of human rights scrutiny, of scrutiny of our human rights by outside forces, whether that means the Human Rights Rapporteurs, who, for example, go into prisons to look at prison conditions, or whether that involves … There’s a kind of generic review process for every member of the Human Rights Council which one has to endure. And our willingness to endure that, that kind of scrutiny, would increase our right to demand scrutiny of others.
SHATTUCK: Well, let me invite those of you who have questions -- and I know many of you do -- to go to our two microphones here. And in just a moment we’ll turn to you and start taking questions. But one more topic -- I’m sorry that I’m cutting off discussion on each of them as we move along, but there’re so many. The one last topic is one that I have to say, Jane, your book, I felt, was particularly compelling, I think, in telling the stories not just of the way in which human rights violations have been conducted, but also of the heroic people inside the government over these years, many of them as it turns out, who have resisted and have become whistle blowers and the like, one of whom we honored here at the Kennedy Library, Alberto Mora as a Profile in Courage. You want to just say a word about how President Obama might send a signal that that kind of behavior, as it were, the adherence to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the international treaties is something that he will honor. Should he do that by Executive Order? What kind of signal can he send?
MAYER: I view my role as a reporter, not somebody who’s going to be giving advice to the President, really. But it certainly would be nice to see some of those people in the State of the Union Address audience. And again, to get to the people who did stand up, and they were really admirable, and people who I came to really think took very courageous stances because it’s easy to be on the outside and criticizing. It’s a lot harder to be on the inside and risk your job to sort of say, “I’m not doing that. And this is beneath us. And we can do better as a country.”
And there were people who really did that. And I think of those people again when we’re talking about accountability, what message does it send to those people who risked their jobs and in some cases gave up their jobs, when there’s a new administration and there are no consequences for the people who they tried to stop. I think that it just kind of again sends a green light to people if there are no consequences whatsoever. And there were very brave people. I don’t know. I’ve actually heard that Alberto Mora, who was one of these people we’ve talked about before, has given some kind of memo to the Obama Administration. And so I don’t know. I think that they’ll maybe play a role and help the cause.
SHATTUCK: Okay, let’s go to questions here. And starting right here, I want you to please keep it to a question and keep it brief, because you can see there are a lot of you. Thank you.
Q: This is a media question so I think it probably goes to Jane Mayer, but I’d be interested in hearing what the rest of the panel says. The panel mentioned John Brennan and Secretary Hayden, and I’ve noticed -- this is more of a question than a statement -- I’ve noticed this pattern amongst some in the press that’s surprisingly similar or let’s say suspiciously similar stories about Brennan and now about Secretary Hayden, sort of defenses of Brennan. And now in World News, U.S. News of Hayden by a diversity of sources, or Tom Gjelten on NPR, CQ, The Politico, and they all seem to share a similar pattern. They’re anonymously sourced by CIA members. They emphasize the need for continuity, which is obviously the opposite of …
Q: … of accountability or change. And they even seem to eschew accountability. They emphasize the respectability of Brennan and Hayden, but they don’t mention their explicit and public endorsements of the torture programs and rendition. So I’m wondering if you guys agree that you see this pattern. And if so, what seems to be bribing?
TRAUB: I have no idea.
Q: Is it pressure from the intelligence community? Is it shame by reporters at having not reported on this earlier?
SHATTUCK: Thank you.
Q: Fear of accountability?
MAYER: Well, I think the blogosphere killed Brennan, if you really want to know. I think that he would have been … He was in line to become the next Director of the CIA until this sort of left-wing blogosphere just took him on. And there weren’t that many different voices, but they were very strong. Andrew Sullivan, in particular, sort of said, “If you don’t think that we can stop this we have only three words for you, ‘Yes, we can.’” And eventually that’s why the transition staff told Brennan, as I understand it, “This is not a fight we need to take on or want to take on.” And it stopped his candidacy. I don’t know. I’m loath to pile on to the so-called mainstream media, not just because I’m part of it, but also …
Q: Well, just some in the media.
MAYER: It’s dying. I also think that there’s just been phenomenal reporting done that people forget about from the mainstream media. Dana Priest told us about those black prison sites. And James Rice told us about the eavesdropping program. And, you know, not everyday is a brilliant day, but what they’re trying to do is reflect this fight going on. And in order to do that, they’ve got to be able to talk to people at the CIA. In order to do that, they can’t just say they’re all war criminals. It’s complicated. It’s a dance. And you’ve just got to take the work as a long thing. I think Brennan is fighting back and so are other people. And they’re trying to say, “We’re not war criminals.” But Brennan’s lost on this one, I think.
SHATTUCK: Over here, please.
Q: Sherry Albert from Canton, Mass. I’m very glad Congressman McGovern brought up double standards. I’d like to talk about the U.N.’s double standard on Israel and it’s continual Israel bashing regarding human rights, when the fact is that Arabs in Israel have many more human rights than they do in all the surrounding Muslim countries where women, gays and basically anyone who isn’t Muslim have virtually no human rights. With the upcoming Human Rights Conference this spring, which has already been called “Durban Two,” Israel bashing is expected to start again. And I would really like to see Susan Rice put this hypocrisy out there and this double standard and bring up the lack of human rights in all these surrounding Muslim countries which are always ignored. And they only focus on Israel with a lot of things taken out of context and propagandized. And I do hope of those of you who know Susan Rice would really drive this point home to her.
MCGOVERN: Let me take that.
SHATTUCK: Go ahead.
MCGOVERN: I agree with a lot of what you say, but I have a different conclusion. I was at Durban One. I saw what went on, and it was outrageous. And one of the reasons that meeting got so out of control is that the United States wasn’t there, or it was there and it walked away. We’ve been working with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights with Congressman Howard Berman, who’s certainly a friend of Israel, to make sure that the new Obama Administration exerts leadership in the meeting that will happen in April, as you say, in Geneva. There’re lots of worrying signs. It’s going to be a meeting with lots of challenges, but “nature abhors a vacuum.” And when the United States isn’t there playing a leading role, challenging some of the things you talk about, you can be sure things are not going to go well. I know a number of American Jewish organizations are saying the American Government should do what Israel has done and what Canada has done, which is to walk away. I think that’s exactly a prescription for disaster.
Q: I agree with you.
SHATTUCK: Can we go over here? Is that Tom? Yep.
SHATTUCK: George. I’m sorry.
Q: George Abbott White, Newton Public Schools. I have a question for Representative McGovern, I think, Ms. Mayer. And I’ve just finished earth worming my way through Barton Gellman’s happy little chronicle of the vicest, Vice-President going. And my question is this, if you’re familiar with it, he describes the Vice-President as putting into place on not just the first and second level of the bureaucracy, but third, fourth, fifth, and whatever, people that are time-tested. In light of what has happened, what’s going to happen with those folks that are, as it were, in place? Mr. McGovern, you know what it’s like to move a governmental bureaucracy. And Ms. Mayer, you know who these people are, some of them. And you know what they’ve done.
MCGOVERN: Right. Look, it’s not just Vice-President Cheney. It’s a whole bunch of other bad players that are trying to embed their political appointees to become kind of career servants in the public sector. It’s not impossible to get at them, if not to get rid of them outright, to reassign them, and to kind of move them around. But look, I think the one thing we cannot underestimate here is that the President of the United States is still a very powerful office, even though Dick Cheney seemed to kind of challenge that in this administration. But the President of the United States can set the tone and can set the agenda. And the people that he surrounds himself with, the people who are his most trusted advisors, who are charged with carrying out his policy … Let me tell you, his Chief of Staff is a good friend of mine, Rahm Emanuel. And I will tell you, if I was ever in a fight I would want him on my side. If in fact President Obama says that he wants to end torture, or to close Guantanamo, or do to whatever, and there’s anybody in the way, Rahm will knock that person down. And it sounds kind of like rough and tough politics, but the bottom line is if the political will exists to change things I think you can get at these people who have been embedded. I don’t think it’s impossible to work around them or to get at them.
MAYER: I think the big “if” is if the political will exists, particularly on the subject of so-called enhanced interrogations. I’m sure we’re moving away from the worst of them. But what I worry about is that there are bureaucrats within the intelligence community who are going to say, “We’re going to be weakened as a country if we don’t do such and such.” They’ll scare the incoming administration. They’re the experts, and they’re going to say, “Sleep deprivation, if we don’t do that we’re not going to get the intelligence. We’ve got to do it.” And even Rahm Emanuel might get worried that we’ll get attacked again if we don’t do certain things. And so I don’t know whether they’ll hear all sides of this debate within the intelligence community.
TRAUB: If I could just add one quick thing, one thing that happened as a result of what you rightly described as Cheney’s embedding these folks, Rumsfeld’s as well, was that the official national security process, especially for the first term, was completely corrupted and distorted because you had something on paper which worked a certain way with Condoleezza Rice as the honest broker and balance wheel. But the reality was that she was completely rolled by Rumsfeld’s staff and Cheney’s staff, with the President’s acquiescence, as Jim said. So it seems to be a key thing starting now is that James Jones, who will be the National Security Advisor, has to insist that what looks -- what the national security process on paper is, in fact, the national security process in reality. And that he has the central role that a National Security Advisor is supposed to have.
SHATTUCK: Let’s go over here.
Q: Yes. Hi, my name is Caroline. I will say thank you very much. And next time that you are coming to this very interesting place, bring a suggestion box and a lot of people will be very happy to give you a lot of questions that you will be able to answer. My question is this: e all can talk all what we want to but charity begins at home. We elect a President of United States not to be a policeman of the world. So, consequently, I would like to ask you, Mr. McGovern, a question. If you are invited to a dinner with Mr. Obama, what are you going to suggest about the particular thing that all we Americans, here and all over the place, are doing with the lousy Patriot Act? And many people cannot talk, cannot say anything. They suffer and they’re quiet. And we are Americans. We are all United States citizens. So I would like to know what would be your suggestion as far as doing something for us Americans. After all, we elected Mr. Obama. So?
MCGOVERN: Absolutely. First of all, thank you for your question. Let me begin by saying that contrary to what President Bush thinks, the fact of the matter is I do think everybody in this country should be able to say whatever they want to say and believe whatever they want to believe, without having to constantly live in fear that their words will be misconstrued and they’ll be put under surveillance without basically a check and a balance, without a court saying that in fact, “There’s justification for me to put you under surveillance.” You should know that the original Patriot Act, believe it or not, worked its way through a judiciary committee that was chaired by Henry Hyde, a pretty conservative Republican from Illinois. And the ranking member was John Conyers, a pretty liberal Democrat from Michigan. And the original Patriot Act that was brought to my committee, the Rules Committee, which was at that time under Republican control, was endorsed by both Henry Hyde and John Conyers. They had an agreement, because they realized that in this new age that maybe there needed to be some adjustments for the intelligence community. And they had come with a compromise that both thought was a reasonable compromise. The Rules Committee -- which I’m always supposed to meet -- the Speaker of the House said, “No. You’re not going to meet right now.” And then we adjourned for a few hours. And then all of a sudden a new bill came to the Rules Committee that came out of John Ashcroft’s Justice Department. And it was a much, much different bill that did not represent a reasonable, rational compromise.
And the President, because he’s been very good at using fear with Karl Rove and with Dick Cheney, was able to muster the majority of votes to get it passed. What we need to do is go back and repeal what is wrong. This is the United States of America. Democracy requires courage. We don’t want to put everybody under surveillance. We don’t want to put a wire tap on everybody. That’s not what this country is about. In fact, I would argue that the fact that Patriot One and Patriot Two Act passed probably is a little bit of a victory for the terrorists because it chips away at the tree of liberty. It chips away at what this country’s founding ideals are. So I would ask Mr. Obama to go back and do a full review and repeal the most egregious parts of those bills.
Q: Thank you. [applause]
SHATTUCK: Yes, sir. Over here.
Q: Good evening. My name is Steve Goode, and I’m a teacher at the John D. O’Bryant School here in Boston. have a statement first. I’ll make it very brief.
SHATTUCK: Make it very brief. You’ve got a lot of people behind you.
Q: I’ll make it brief. Okay. My dad constantly says, “Things you want to do you find time for. Things you don’t want to do you find excuses for.” And they can spend as much political capital as they want, if they want to do it. In your book you actually mention about mixed messages -- in your book, Mr. Shattuck. Also Mr. McGovern, you mention about mixed messages and I think that’s the thing that came from the entire panel. That’s something I can walk away with, mixed messages. So my question is -- and I haven’t heard it from a question over here about Israel -- if a country needs to exist and they have to torture someone, if they feel like their security is threatened and they need to torture, how can you deny them that opportunity if they need to exist? They see that their sole existence is they torture that person to get the information. Information being that terrorist has information for an atomic bomb and that atomic bomb is going to blow up in five places in the United States. Do you torture them?
MAYER: Well, you know that’s the scenario from the Fox show 24, but actually it’s not reality in the War on Terror as we’ve known it. If you look at what Senator Rockefeller, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says, “We’ve never had a ticking time bomb scenario in this entire seven year period.” And he also says that he’s seen absolutely no evidence -- and he’s actually had access to the sort of interrogation logs -- there’s no evidence that using torture gets you information any faster or any better than anything else. It might make you feel better if you really want to beat somebody up. But it’s not the panacea.
Human Rights First has assembled this amazing panel of experts from the military who are military interrogators, generals, admirals. They will tell you, “Torture doesn’t work. It’s going to get you unreliable information.” Talk to the FBI. They’re the people who do interrogations in this country. They’ll tell you, “Torture doesn’t work. It’s not only going to get you unreliable information you’re going to lose your soul.” The history of the world, of the Spanish Inquisition, you can just take a look at every place but Fox and the show 24, and you can find all the reason you need to know why you don’t need to torture someone. It’s a sort of a phony setup that’s kind of built to create this hypothetical that will make you feel maybe you need to torture, but you don’t. [applause]
TRAUB: If I can add one thing. If that situation arises, you’re not going to be restrained by the fact that you’ve said you won’t torture people. In that case -- I can’t imagine the situation arising but if it does then you act. You do what you feel must be done in this urgent situation, and then you live with the consequences.
Q: Okay. I’ll just say …
SHATTUCK: I’m sorry. We really want to move on.
Q: Thank you.
SHATTUCK: Yeah, thanks. I see one of my students. Liz, over to you.
Q: Yes, I’m Elizabeth Herman. I go to Tufts University and I’m in Ambassador Shattuck’s “Contemporary Dilemmas in American Foreign Policy” class. And my question jumps right off what you, Ms. Mayer, were just saying about torture and what you, Mr. Posner, talked about earlier about framing these human rights and strategic interests, which is what we talk about in his class all the time. My classmates know. So I was wondering … And you need public and political support to be able to act on all these issues, so for an issue, how do we start to do that more in the future and frame future human rights issues in terms of strategic interests, something like the genocide in Darfur, which unfortunately many people view as little more than a far away African country? How do you frame that in terms of the United States’ strategic interests and, therefore, get political and public will to act?
TRAUB: You’re asking about Darfur in particular?
Q: Any example. I mean, I just want to …
TRAUB: Well, just to follow up on the torture issue, I think it’s made a huge difference that a lot of the leading voices against torture are precisely the people that are on the frontlines on the national security front. It is the FBI. It is these retired admirals and generals. We’ve recruited now almost 50 of them who’ve spoken out against the President. It’s unprecedented. It’s the interrogators. It’s even people in the CIA who are saying we shouldn’t be doing custodial interrogations or running prisons at all. We’ve never done it in our history. We don’t know how to do it. So I think there really is a need to reframe that as a national security, civil liberties smart debate rather than having it juxtapositioned as a zero sum game. And I think on a lot of issues it’s possible to do that. You start to look at what are the consequences across communities and who really cares about these things, and try to create a different kind of a political dynamic.
MCGOVERN: Can I just say one thing? There’s a perception amongst some of the people who are in control right now that those of us who advocate human rights are somehow soft, that somehow this is not in the strategic interests of the United States of America. I would argue that our neglect of upholding a high standard of human rights has made us more vulnerable. And as I said in the beginning, when we talk about human rights it’s not just individual and civil human rights. It’s also economic and social and cultural rights as well.
I also co-chair the Congressional Hunger Caucus. Hunger, I think, is a human rights issue. There are 900 million people on this planet who are hungry. We should all be ashamed about that -- 35 million in the United States alone. Let me tell you, that is a national security problem. If we are known around the world as the leader to end global hunger, to get the world community to do what it can do … I mean, there are some issues we can’t end in my lifetime. Hunger isn’t one of them. But if we’re known for taking the lead to end hunger, to end poverty, I tell you people will start liking us. And I know this is a radical idea in Washington, but if people like you they don’t want to do anything bad to you.
And so maybe we can start looking at adding to our community of friends. But I think we need to explain to people that what we’re advocating here is hardheaded realism. This is smart diplomacy. This is in our strategic and our security interests. And the fact that we’ve neglected these issues, I think has hurt us and made us more vulnerable. [applause]
MAYER: I just want to say that I was going to quote Jim Traub’s book since he quoted mine, but he talks about how basically where there are failed states in the world now -- I think we’re beginning to understand that whether it’s Somalia or Afghanistan, for instance -- people can see that they become cauldrons of instability in places where terrorism and other kinds of radicals breed. And they are dangers. So self-interest, I think, is the best way to sell these sorts of programs.
SHATTUCK: I thought you were going to quote this line, Jane, from the book but it’s really Obama, himself, in an interview with Jim Traub. And he says, “Freedom must also mean freedom from want, not freedom lost to an empty stomach. So I will make poverty reduction a key part of helping other nations reduce anarchy.” I thought that was a very brief and succinct statement of this point. Let’s go over here
Q: Yeah, I think it probably illustrates Congress’ double standard towards human rights than the fact that your predecessor, Tom Lantos of California, was chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. Nobody trampled over Palestinian human rights more than Lantos did over his many years in Congress. I think it’s a wonderful idea that we end aid to countries that violate human rights. Chief among them is a leading foreign aid beneficiary, Israel, which not only practices wide-scale torture, it also violates U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions, and our own Arms Export Control Act. Now, if we’re going to end this double standard, don’t we have to impose these same standards on our foreign aid recipients, like Israel, which is giving us such a bad image not only in the Middle East but throughout the rest of the world, and maybe, also apply the same level of force to Israel to remove them from the illegally occupied Palestinian territories as we did to Iraq to get them out of Kuwait?
SHATTUCK: Who wants to take a crack at that? [laughter] I’m sure they’re all eager to answer. But I think the issue broadly is the question of double standards. We’re talking about that. And I have a view on that but, Jim, go ahead.
MCGOVERN: You may have a better view than me, but let me first of all begin by saying a word in defense of my friend, late Congressman Tom Lantos, who passed away not too long ago. You know, you might not have agreed with him on everything, but this is a man who has done more to kind of raise the issue of human rights than anyone I know -- the only Holocaust survivor to serve the United States Congress. And he and I got arrested in front of the Sudanese Embassy protesting the terrible genocide in Darfur. So I want to be careful. I want to make sure that people understand that Tom Lantos is a good and decent man and deserves our praise for a lifetime of achievement.
Secondly, on this issue of human rights, one of the things we need to figure out how to do better is learn how to talk to each other in a way that we don’t put each other on the defensive. And that’s one of the problems with the kind of U.S. foreign policy right now. When we send these epistles to countries that you’re not living up to this standard, it’s usually in a very kind of in your face way which makes it very difficult for people to respond in a way that is the way you wanted to. And I would finally say one thing and you listen to John. As a United States Congressman as a United States Citizen, I want us to live up to the standard that I want everybody else to live up to. And I think if we can accomplish that with this next administration, I think others will follow by our example. I mean we need to set the standard. And we haven’t done that. In fact, we have kind of trampled over what I think is one of the fundamental values of this country. And I’ll yield to John.
SHATTUCK: I was going to make that point. You made it even more eloquently by far. So let me end there and go to Patty over here.
Q: Hi. I’m Patty Belinger.
SHATTUCK: Oh, I’m sorry. Patty, just hold one second.
TRAUB: I just want to add one thing on the Israel question. In the first, after the first, or during the first Intifada, we spent a lot of time trying to get Congress to hold a hearing on what was going on in the West Bank. And it was extremely challenging. I don’t agree with everything in your question or the way you’ve characterized things, but I do believe we need to relax the rules of debate and discussion about that subject. There are plenty of problems, both on the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side, but it’s still a subject that people tread too gingerly over. We have to put the issue on the table. As a friend of Israel, frankly, it’s important that we have that discussion, have it honestly. And I think that if there’s going to be a peace process, rather than viewing the human rights issues as what will happen after the peace process is resolved, I think we need to view those issues as confidence building measures on both sides that’s going to make it easier to get to the ultimate political resolution.
SHATTUCK: What I’m going to do now -- and I’ll first turn to my good friend Patty Belinger -- but I want to get all the questions that we have pending. We’re just about out of time. As you know, this is broadcast every Sunday night so we really can’t go too much over time. So if you’d state your question Patty, and then we’ll go around to the others and accumulate them and then I’ll go to the panel.
Q: My question is if you look at the history of human rights violations in the United States, many of which in the past occurred through clandestine operations, I’d like to hear how the panel positions the United States current situation in terms of human rights violations? Have the last eight years represented a quantum leap, or in fact was the quantum leap that it is public and legalized? So how would we actually put that in context? That’s the first part of the question. And then the second part is where would you position the United States today in the spectrum of human rights violating countries? Thank you.
SHATTUCK: Great. Thanks. Over here.
Q: My question is there’s been a lot of talk about President Bush, before he leaves office, is to grant blanket pardons. And I’m wondering what the effect of that would be on all of the assumptions going forward about what we can do to reestablish our role and our rightful place in the world?
SHATTUCK: Thanks. Over here.
Q: Igor Lantsman, Russian speaking Science Club. I don’t agree that torture is something you can use. This is technology of the past. And I don’t think Brennan should be made scapegoat of this. As a matter of fact, right now brand new technology -- it’s called mind-control, and it’s more efficient, much more efficient than torture. So what is, in my opinion, what Obama should do first, make this technology legal. And this is a question probably to Mr. McGovern, why is this technology known for ten years, at least, why this technology is not made legal, mind control? Thank you.
SHATTUCK: Okay. Thank you. Yes.
Q: Hi. I’m Megan Libby. I’m the NSEP Boren National Securities Fellow in Burmese Studies, and my question’s for Mr. Traub. You were speaking about the responsibility of tit for tat, so I kind of want to pick on that a little bit because of this year’s clear case of “R To P” gone awry: Burma and the cyclone, and kind of would love to hear your opinion about where “R To P” kind of intersects with engaging a country like Burma, under military dictatorship and where the human rights and right to sovereignty kind of meet?
SHATTUCK: What is “R to P”?
Q: R To P, responsibility to protect.
SHATTUCK: You’re asking whether or not the international community should intervene in some fashion in Burma?
Q: Well, yeah. I know it’s a gray line, so I’d like his opinion. Thank you.
SHATTUCK: Thank you. And the last question.
Q: Mine’s very different. I’m involved actually in a libel claim in England. And I think Mr. McGovern might know something about the Free Speech Protection Act that’s been proposed in Congress, which has been prompted by the actions of a judge in England called Mr. Justice Eady. I have a libel claim against several newspapers which is quite unfortunate. But my hearings have been held in private, which is against my human rights within the European Court of Human Rights, and it’s against English Common Law, and I asked the judge why he is making my hearings in private. And he cited the European Convention of Human Rights Article Eight, which is the Right to Privacy which is getting a lot of talk at the moment in England. And there’s a lot of controversy about it. And the English Government is now going to review the European Convention of Human Rights. So my question is …
SHATTUCK: Is there a question?
Q: Yeah, the question is what do you think of the European Convention of Human Rights? And what do you think that the British Government is going to do about this? And the reason I just raised my case is that as an American, my human rights are being violated in an English court. It seems really minor, but it’s quite serious. And no one in the English press will write about it.
SHATTUCK: Thank you. Thank you. Okay. We have quite a potpourri of questions here toward the end. I think very important the first question, the question of what the human rights violations of the last eight years have really been like in terms of the quantum leap or are they really part of a pattern, the question about the blanket pardons, a question about whether mind control technology should be made legal, the question about whether intervention in some form should be contemplated for human rights violations in Burma, and then this complex question about libel and the European Convention on Human Rights. So why don’t we just … You can take any one of those or none. And we’ll go down the panel.
MAYER: I’ll take the first one on whether this is different or part of a continuum in U.S. History. And the answer is somewhat both. It’s a question I put to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who I had lunch with the year before he died. I asked how serious it was. He said he felt that nothing had hurt the United States image in the world more than this sanctioning of torture, ever in our entire history. So he certainly looked at it as the most egregious in that continuum. But obviously he’s written a book about how the pendulum swings back and forth. And so it is both. But the questioner, one last thing, which is you said -- she asked, “Is the only difference that it’s been legalized this time?” Well, that’s a hell of a difference because that is the problem. It’s that our Constitution seems and our Bill of Rights seems to outlaw these behaviors, yet this Administration made them legal from the very top of the White House. So that’s why it’s different.
TRAUB: So let me address the question about Burma. The premise of the so-called responsibility to protect is that every state has the responsibility to protect its own citizens from mass atrocities. When they fail, the international community has an obligation to protect them. The question about Burma was this: When a state, not by committing an act but by being at the receiving end of a terrible natural disaster, when a state then reacts to that in a way to prevent help from getting to those people, as a conscience act of policy is that a crime against humanity? Now, there was a huge debate over this. The French said, “Yes.” Many other people said, “No.” I mean as far as I’m concerned the answer is “Yes, it can be.”
Did the act of the Burmese reach that level? It might have. It turned out in the end, by a kind of miracle, that not nearly as many Burmese died as a result of the brutal behavior of the Burmese Government as one might have expected. But these are the kind of tough questions that are only now beginning to arise because this is a new principle. It was passed three years ago, and it’s being fiercely debated in many ways. And this is sort of one of the tough boundary questions, you might say.
SHATTUCK: Jim McGovern?
MCGOVERN: On the libel question, I don’t know. But I’d like to learn more. I’d like to get more information about it. Maybe we can talk after this. On the mind-controlling drug technology, you know, I don’t know about that either. But let me just say this, the military people that I have talked to, the people who have been experts on interrogation, you know, believe that oftentimes the best way to get information is by having a reasonable conversation with somebody, giving somebody a glass of water and building up trust. And that torture and these other techniques oftentimes get you wrong information because nobody wants to be tortured. Or people would just break down and tell you whatever they want to hear.
Let me just say on the issue of where we kind of stack in terms of human rights violations. One of the good things about the election of Barack Obama is that it has created some political space in the United States of America to talk about these issues, to talk about whether or not torture should be the policy of the United States or not, to talk about what the so-called War of Terror is, to talk about the Patriot Act and how we should visit those things. I think that’s a good thing. And I think the more we talk about these things and let the sun shine some reality on these things, the more things are going to change for the better. I think it’s just as important to talk about as torture is some of our foreign policies around the world where we continue to send military aid to countries that have militaries that abuse their civilian populations. And I think also important to talk about in this new administration is some of our lousy development policies where we’re not doing enough to try to end poverty and to end hunger and to end illiteracy and malnutrition, and all these other things that have caused so much unrest around the world. So we have a full plate, but I am hopeful.
And I’ll just say this administration’s human rights record is so bad I’m actually nostalgic for Reagan. And that’s saying a lot. [laughter]
POSNER: I was going to say that in the Reagan years, Jim and I spent a lot of time [inaudible] advocated for official cruelty over the objection of Congress and over the objection of the Supreme Court. This is the first time a president of the United States has ever declared essentially a war on law and to say that war trumps law. This is the first time a president has ever said, “There’s a global war. We’re not going to tell you who the enemy is or when it’s going to end or where it’s going to take place. But we the executive are going to take authority away from the other branches of government.”
So there’s a bigger issue here than even the things we’ve been talking about. And I think we will get back into alignment. I’m very optimistic that people are now well aware of what’s happened. I do expect to see pardons, a blanket pardon. I think there’ll be a huge debate about the legality of doing that. And, again, I think we need to keep open the possibility of individual accountability. It’s not the first thing we should take on. But I don’t think you should take it off the table until all of the facts come out. So I’m optimistic. I think we’re going to make a lot of progress on these issues, but not without a lot of work.
SHATTUCK: Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground here and you’ve helped us to do that -- you and the audience with your questions. And I think the last point really builds on what Mike just said. I think this is a time of optimism and opportunity, tremendous resilience that the United States has often shown on these fundamental questions, moral questions. There have been earlier periods in our history to be sure that are also dark in terms of the internment of Japanese-Americans and other horrors, to say nothing of the deepest horrors in our own history having to do with slavery. So I think this is a time of hope. And I think each of panelists has, in their own way, given us that. And I want to thank each of you -- Jane and Jim and Jim and Mike -- and anyone out there who’s ready to sign up for the next job as Assistant Secretary for Human Rights. You’ve gotten great advice here. So thank you all. [applause]
END OF FORUM