“Inter arma enim silent leges”

Zach Wiita

In 52 BCE, the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero said, “In times of war, the law falls silent.” Sadly, it seems that we have proved him right. It has become clear that between Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 20, 2009, the rule of law did not exist in the United States.

Take the controversy over the practice of waterboarding, for instance. Waterboarding, for those readers unfamiliar with the term, refers to a type of torture that induces controlled drowning. Victims are placed on a hard, straight surface – often, as one might infer, a board – and tied down. The head is usually declined. Buckets of water are then poured all over the victim’s face, nose and mouth, causing a nearly-instant sensation of panic and suffocation.

Waterboarding was used by the Spanish Inquisition, the Gestapo, the Khmer Rouge, Pinochet-era Chile and by World War II-era Japan. It was prosecuted as a war crime after World War II.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden admitted in February 2008 that the CIA had waterboarded prisoners Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was waterboarded 183 times. Meanwhile, tapes made of the waterboarding of Zubayda were later destroyed by the CIA after 17 demands were made by U.S. courts to view the videos – strong evidence of obstruction of justice.

In 2005, The Washington Post reported that an Afghani prisoner in CIA custody in a secret prison north of Kabul froze to death in November 2002 after being stripped naked and chained to a concrete floor overnight without blankets. They also reported at least four other deaths of prisoners held by the CIA were being investigated.

The New York Times reported in July 2008 that Red Cross investigators had concluded that the U.S. government had engaged in torture. In April, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee released a report finding that the Bush administration had turned to torture to produce “evidence” of a link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

It is a matter of historical fact that Justice Department officials such as John Yoo produced legal memos designed to re-define torture to exclude most torture practices – thereby “freeing” the government to use them.

Now, the biggest bombshell of them all: The New York Times reports that from 2001 to 2009, there existed a classified CIA program whose existence was concealed from Congress on orders from Vice President Dick Cheney. When Cheney left office, the program continued, and CIA Director Leon Panetta was not informed about it until June – at which time he immediately shut the program down and alerted Congress.

The evidence is clear and is mounting: Between 2001 and 2009, the United States executive routinely engaged in acts of torture and violations of law and acted to cover it up.

President Obama has consistently indicated a desire to put the past behind us and move on. While he has done well by seeking to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison and banning waterboarding and torture, this is simply no longer enough.

If the United States is to restore its moral integrity, its duty is clear. These allegations need to be investigated, prominently and thoroughly. A grand jury must be summoned, and if the evidence warrants it, indictments must be handed down. The rule of law must reign again.

It’s time that President Obama proves Cicero wrong.

Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theater studies major and a columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].