I'm outsourcing this week's torture commentary to a couple of guys who are much funnier than I am. At least on that subject:
First, Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America.
I have now lived through three major episodes in my life where the political elite have told me quite plainly that neither I nor my fellow citizens are sufficiently mature to suffer the public prosecution of major crimes committed within my government. The first was when Gerry Ford told me I wasnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt strong enough to handle the sight of Richard Nixon in the dock. Dick Cheney looked at this episode and determined that the only thing Nixon did wrong was get caught. The second time was when the entire government went into spasm over the crimes of the Iran-Contra gang and I was told that I wasnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt strong enough to see Ronald Reagan impeached or his men packed off to Danbury. Dick Cheney looked at this and determined that the only thing Reagan and his men did wrong was get caught and, by then, Cheney had decided that even that wasnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt really so very wrong and everybody should shut up. Now, Barack Obama, who won election by telling the country and its people that they were great because of all theyÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd done for him, has told me that I am not strong enough to handle the prosecution of pale and vicious bureaucrats, many of them acting at the behest of Dick Cheney, who decided that the only thing he was doing wrong was nothing at all, who have broken the law, disgraced their oaths, and manifestly belong in a one-room suite at the Hague. Not to put too fine a point on it, but IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm sick and goddamn tired of being told that, as a citizen, I am too fragile to bear the horrible burden of watching public criminals pay for their crimes and that, as a political entity, my fellow citizens and I are delicate flowers encased in candy-glass who must be kept away from the sight of men in fine suits weeping as they are ripped from the arms of their families and sent off to penal institutions manifestly more kind than those in which they arranged to get their rocks off vicariously while driving other men mad.And Dear Leader (unexcerptable, go take a look)
Speaking of idiot America, I bet you thought Michelle Bachman was the dumbest person in congress. Here's some cracker named Joe Barton giving her a run for the money (he's schooling Energy Secretary and Nobel laureate Stephen Chu on the sources of oil).
And here is IOZ pointing out that we've tortured and committed other assorted imperial crimes for many years, so what's all the big fuss about torture?
The idea that our interrogations are a unique moral stain is cracked and insane. Waterboarding is not the disease, merely one observable symptom of a deeper and more pernicious pathology.Well, yeah, sort of. Torture is not uniquely immoral, it's just the most glaring and obviously evil form that state power can take. It's been targeted (by me, at least) because it is so obvious. It is not a subject that permits any debate, any nuance, any wishy-washiness. Most political questions are not simple moral questions; there is usually at least a little bit of merit on the other side. Not so with torture, either you oppose it or you aren't a decent human being. Not really complicated. Just like in Harlan County, there are no neutrals here. You are either opposed to torture or a thug for the worst aspects of the state.
Of course, there are a quite a few indecent people out here on the intertubes. I tried to school them in some basics, and didn't get very far -- read the prior and follwing comments if you feel like seeing a bunch of people in deep denial:
- To be opposed to torture is not to be on the side of the terrorists. It is to be on the side of civilization and law.
- It is not only deranged leftists who describe US torture as torture. There is, for instance, former Army Major General Taguba.
- Even if you believe terrorists are sub-humans who deserve to be tortured, there is no guarantee that all of the people we have tortured were guilty of terrorism. There were no trials, no judicial review, no due process, no checks and balances. Even when the law is being followed scrupulously, innocent people get convicted and set to prision. How likely is it then, under the lawless conditions of the Bush/Cheney war on terror, that innocents were swept up and tortured? Here's one who was tortured to death, and there are a great many more like him.
- It is doubtful that any useful intelligence has been produced by torture in the War on Terror. It is, however, a very good tool for extracting false confessions to justify government policies. That appears to have been its chief purpose:
A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration...There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said...The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that Chalabi and others had told them were there."
- Torture is a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. While naturally it is more important to bring to justice the higher officials who ordered these illegal acts, the Nuremburg Tribunals established the principle that following orders is not a valid defense for war crimes, so the soliders on the ground have to answer as well. I have some sympathy for soldiers in the very difficult position of having to choose between following their orders and following their consciences, but to deny them culpability is to deny their status as moral actors, which is a grave insult. Here's a story about one who was apparently driven to suicide over the choice.