As the Bush regime slowly ends, the discussion about how to deal with its multitude of human rights violations has commenced in earnest. From human rights blog Never In Our Names comes word that Gene Burn, prominent West-Coast talk show figure, has changed his mind and now believes that an international tribunal to try Vice President Cheney for torture is justified:
Influential Talk-Show Host Shifts Position: Cheney To The Hague
For 30 straight years KGO has been the most listened-to AM radio station in the San Francisco Bay Area. From dusk till dawn, it can also be heard throughout the entirety of the west coast, from Canada to Mexico. KGO pioneered the talk-radio format, long before it was seized and exploited by the rightwing noise machine. The station employs local, non-syndicated hosts, all of whom consistently rank first in their time slots. Hosts run the left-coast political gamut, from the vacuous, muddle-headed centrist Ronn Owens, to the fiery renegade Ray Taliaferro, who contends that a close reading of scripture discloses that Jesus was gay, and most commonly refers to George II as “that idiot out of Texas.”
Occupying the 7-10 p.m. time slot is Gene Burns, who has been in radio for more than 40 years, the past 14 at KGO. Burns is a recently lapsed Libertarian; he sought the party’s presidential nomination in 1984, but, after supporting John Kerry in 2004, this year he made the great leap, and registered as a Democrat. He is a pedant, and something of a blowhard, but is extremely influential with more moderate listeners put off by the station’s fire-breathing lefties. Burns has consistently opposed impeachment proceedings against George II and Darth Cheney as frivolous and unwarranted: these men have not, to his mind, committed impeachable offenses. Challenged by callers contending that these men approved the torture of fellow human beings, Burns has maintained that the United States has not tortured; even waterboarding, to him, does not constitute torture.
Wednesday night, all this changed. After viewing on his local PBS affiliate the documentary Torturing Democracy, Burns told his listeners, he realized he had been wrong. The United States has tortured. It has also engaged in extraordinary renditions, for the purpose of torture. While Burns still believes impeachment to be a non-starter, he has concluded that, in the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in other sites overseas, Dick Cheney is guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and should be brought to trial before an international tribunal at The Hague. With the expectation that, in the course of Cheney mounting his defense, he may implicate George II as equally culpable in the commission of the same crimes.
Burns urged his listeners to view Torturing Democracy, which is available, in full, here. Burns can be an obstinate cuss, not often inclined to admit error: this documentary, which I have not seen, must indeed be powerful. For Burns was heretofore no member of our choir: prior to viewing Torturing Democracy, he was adamant that no such crimes had been committed “in our names.”
I’m not here to scoff at him; I’m here to praise him. Admitting to error is very hard: I struggle with it, all the time, myself. Our outgoing president, of course, famously could not admit to a single mistake made in his first term. Burns is a better man than that. He was eloquent, tonight, in the explanation of his evolution; below is a transcript of some of what he said, taken from the station’s archived audio (which will be available here, if you’d like to listen yourself, until 10 p.m. PST on Thursday).
I now believe that some international human rights organization ought to open an investigation of the Bush administration, I think focused on Vice President Dick Cheney, and attempt to bring charges against Cheney in the international court of justice at The Hague, for war crimes. Based on the manner in which we have treated prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and the manner in which we have engaged in illegal rendition, that is, surreptitiously kidnapping prisoners and flying them to foreign countries where they could be tortured by foreign agents who do not follow the same civilized standards to which we subscribe.
I’ve always said that I’ve thought that even at Guantanamo Bay the United States was careful to stay on this side of torture. In fact, you may recall that on a couple of occasions we got into a spirited debate on this program about waterboarding, and whether waterboarding was torture. And I took the position that it was not torture, that it was simulated drowning, and that if that produced information which preserved our national security, I thought it was permissible.
And then I saw Torturing Democracy.
And I’m afraid, now that I have seen what I have seen, that I was wrong about that. It looks to me, based on this documentary, as if in fact we have engaged in behavior and practices at Guantanamo Bay, and in these illegal renditions, that are violations of the international human rights code.
And I believe that Dick Cheney is responsible. I believe that he was the agent of the United States government charged with developing the methodology used at Guantanamo Bay, supervising it for the administration, and indulging in practices which are in fact violations of human rights.
Why not George Bush? I think that it would be easier to nail Cheney. And there’s a certain method to this madness: that if you go after Cheney–seriously, I’m talking now about a serious investigation by an international tribunal, and charges brought against him in the international court, so that he would be subject to arrest, and trial, just as Milosevic and some of the people involved in these behaviors in the Balkans were–that that would force Cheney, in his defense, to disclose the degree to which the president, George W. Bush, was culpable in any of this, if culpable at all.
I really found this documentary, Torturing Democracy, very, very disturbing. And I guess the reason that heretofore I have not been such an easy mark on the matter of this kind of charge is that I don’t think I ever saw an organized, systematized review of what we did, and how we did it, as well presented as it was in this documentary.
And it grieves me to say, as an American citizen, that I believe the leadership of our country is responsible for crimes against humanity. But, you know, we can’t be trumpeting about the behavior of others, like Milosevic, and others, if we do not expect ourselves to be held to a similar high standard.
And no matter our desire to preserve and protect our national security, which is uppermost in the minds of all of us, and something which our leaders are sworn to do by oath, if to do that we have to engage in torture, we should not do it.
And as this documentary points out, there is no indication that any significant, credible evidence that made us safer was ever developed or deduced or adduced during these sessions. And in my view, some of these sessions went over the line.
And I’d like to see a panel of international court judges review the evidence. They might not agree. They might find Vice President Cheney not guilty–who knows? But I’d certainly like to see a trial of Dick Cheney as the responsible party in the United States government for developing tortures that were violations of our obligations under international concordants and treaties involving human rights violations.
If you keep listening, you will hear what we–and now he–are up against. The very first caller, an aging veteran, announced that Burns had “disgraced” himself; that “war is hell” and thus such things happen; that to sound such views but two days after Veterans Day constituted an offense against the United States. The caller concluded by saying that it was his belief that Burns should be jailed. Burns, who has a temper, invited the caller to go out and purchase some handcuffs, and then come down to the station to see whether he might succeed in locking them around Burns’ wrists.
A little later came the opposite end of the spectrum: a caller who sneered at Burns for coming too late to the issue, and demanded that Cheney be “publicly executed.”
Somewhere between these extremes must steer the serious people.
Can Dick Cheney be made to stand before The Hague? Maybe. Maybe not. The concept of international criminal tribunals is so fresh, and Darth Cheney is an awfully fat fish. But it is certain that every step taken towards such a day, even if that day is in the end never reached, helps insure that future Cheneys will be less likely to engage in similar behavior. And it is equally true that every sober, serious voice that states that Cheney deserves to be brought before The Hague, helps to push that position farther from fringoid fantasy, and closer to common wisdom.
So welcome to our world, Mr. Burns. And thank you.