No single policy of the Bush era was more destructive than its approval of torture.
The torture of prisoners – whether the chaotic sexualized degradations of Abu Ghraib or the cold, systemic torture symbolized by water boarding – has more than any other action of the Bush administration tarnished America’s image abroad and our self image. Revelations about the acts at Abu Ghraib – and the accompanying photos – put America’s sexual neurosis on display for the world. The systemic abuses planned, approved and conducted by the Bush administration – were cheered on by their supporters and passionately defended by far too many Americans. They have revealed a sickness of the soul in far too many of our fellow citizens for my comfort.
As Digby so ably pointed out yesterday,
. . .disapproval of torture is now being characterized as a strictly partisan issue, like welfare reform or taxes.
Some of that dynamic is a function of the utter and complete stupidity of the American media. It is inconceivable that they could possibly be any worse and yet almost guaranteed that they will sink to some new and horrific low. Atrios’ scorn for the Villagers becomes more and more real for me every day.
Defenders of torture indulge in a series of dishonest fantasies which are mostly comic book scenarios of evil-doers with deep, dark secret plans that can be revealed if we hurt them enough. And since – in this scenario – we are doing so for noble reasons, then our actions are justifiable. It is the most repugnant form of reasoning, the most distasteful kind of ends justifying the means argument imaginable. Many of the various scenarios offered to defend torture are variations on the “ticking time bomb” theme – that a prisoner knows about a plot to hurt Americans and we can stop the plot if we get the information fast enough and fast means painful and it’s okay in the name of saving Americans.
It’s a profoundly immoral argument.
It is an argument that says intentionally inflicting physical and psychological suffering on a person is acceptable if it done to keep us safe. No matter how far-fetched, how improbable the scenario, defenders of torture tell us if one American life can be saved it is worth it to torture someone. It’s an appealing argument if you believe the comic book version of the enemy, the wild eyed fanatic beyond reason. It’s appealing if you can dismiss the captive as some sort of villain with no redeeming qualities. It fails, however, when you begin to consider that to the other side, the valiant American soldier is a terrorist occupying their nation and that he/she might know something to save the lives of an Iraqi or Afghan citizen. Suddenly, the shoe is very much on the other foot.
More disturbing though is that in our names, in the name of the American people, the Bush administration planned, approved and conducted torture. They invented names for it to make it palatable. They invented legal rationalizations. And they convinced far too many Americans that torture was okay in the name of security.
If we truly on the side of the angels, then we have a moral responsibility to live it out. Simply declaring that “the other side” are the bad guys is a dodge, an evasion of moral responsibility. The means by which we as a nation achieve a goal matter. They matter hugely. Given our national history -which has been much discussed here at OneUtah – it’s clear that the US has historically defined waterboarding as torture and criminal, as a violation of the military code of conduct. It is morally wrong.
John Rawls (Shane can correct me if I get this wrong) discussed what he called a veil of ignorance – when setting a policy you have to do so as if it might apply to you tomorrow (or never). You draft a policy blind to who it could affect. It’s easy to approve of water boarding if you imagine only bad guys will go through it. It’s easy to accept the blind tribalism that says, “We’re good, they’re bad” which so many advocates of Iraq and Afghanistan have gladly sold us and to cheer for water boarding the “bad guys.” For myself, I can only see in such a stance a morally stunted person, dominated by fear and unprepared to maturely manage the risks of the world.
We’ve faced badder bad guys than a few howling barbarians waving the Koran and afraid of science. We’ve faced enemies who could annihilate the world at a whim. And we beat them. We did it without resorting to torture and we did it without running around in terror. We can beat the Islamic terrorists with one hand tied behind our backs and we can do it by civilizing them – be showing them that women who can read aren’t a threat and that science is the only path to human salvation that matters. The Taliban is dominated by people who haven’t had a new idea since about the year 800. We can beat them without breaking a sweat and without ever once violating the Geneva convention and it is a sign of the Bush administration’s lack of imagination and insight that they resorted to torture and for that shame on them.
Now let’s never do it again.