Why We Need to Investigate Torture

In thinking about Attorney General Eric Holder's deliberations on how and to what extent to investigate Bush-era torture policies, I think it pays to look back at what I consider the closest historical parallel: the Japanese internment camps. Both cases involved overreactions to unprovoked attacks on our homeland. In 1988, Congress determined that the decision to inter Japanese-Americans was based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership" and authorized $1.6 million in reparations. Ronald Reagan signed the bill. I don't think we want to wait forty-three years to recognize our post-9/11 errors.

One interesting parallel between the 1940's and the Bush era is that offending policies were justified in part by difficulties in using sensitive electronic surveillance in court.

In Magic: The Untold Story of US Intelligence and the Evacuation of Japanese Residents From the West Coast During World War II (2001, Athena Press), David Lowman (1921-1999), a Former Special Assistant to the Director of the National Security Agency, argues that Roosevelt was persuaded to authorize the evacuation when told the US had only partly and with great difficulty broken the Japanese Naval codes. Successful prosecution of Japanese-Americans would force the government to release information revealing their knowledge of Japanese ciphers. If the Japanese Imperial Navy changed its codes, Roosevelt was told, it might be months or even years before they could be read again. Magic was the code-name for American code-breaking efforts.

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