Complicit in Torture (American Politics part three)

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.

  1. #1 by Richard Warnick on May 14, 2009 - 9:44 am

    What possible guarantee can we have that our government has ceased using torture? They are refusing to prosecute or even investigate the Bush administration torture regime, and President Obama is actively participating in an attempt to cover up the evidence.

    This is infuriating, because the Bushies are practically begging to go to jail. Former President Bush, Dick Cheney and Condi Rice have all admitted participating in conspiracy to commit torture. In today’s WSJ, Karl Rove accuses Rep. Nancy Pelosi of being “an accessory to a crime of torture.” Rove is in effect daring the Obama administration to appoint a special prosecutor.

    • #2 by Cameron on May 14, 2009 - 11:45 am

      Because until this point the Democratic Party has used the issue to target Republicans. But if the truth were to come out, suddenly the finger would be pointing at them.

      It’s politics. Nobody actually cares about torture or prosecutions.

      • #3 by Richard Warnick on May 14, 2009 - 11:59 am

        Cameron, speak for yourself. Torture is a serious crime, which was committed on a massive scale during the Bush administration. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, died. We can either prosecute or give up on the rule of law.

  2. #4 by jdberger on May 14, 2009 - 10:01 am

    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.

    Isn’t this cultural imperialism?

    Isn’t this part of the PNAC Doctrine?

    Who are you and what have you done with Glendon?

  3. #5 by Glenden Brown on May 14, 2009 - 10:21 am

    JD – Want to know something? People who believe in publicly flogging teenagers don’t get my respect; people who believe that it’s immoral to teach girls to read don’t get my respect. People who believe that killing is morally justified don’t get my respect. The Taliban and Al Qaeda do not deserve our respect. And the way we beat them is by being civilized, by spreading civilization which means we don’t believe it’s okay to live by the sword.

  4. #6 by jdberger on May 14, 2009 - 10:36 am

    What is the proper way to respond when they are beheading your children?

    Demonstrate how to drink tea with an extended pinky?

  5. #7 by jdberger on May 14, 2009 - 4:18 pm

    Or – Richard – you can prosecute, realize it’s fruitless and then revel in the chaos caused by a political vendetta taken too far.

    You thought a stained dress tore this nation apart, wait until you start prosecuting the members of the previous regime.

    That’s when officeholders start making up rules so they don’t ever have to relinquish power – because they fear they’ll have to answer for some “crime”.

    This isn’t about justice, Richard. It’s about revenge. And revenge is a damn dirty business.

    • #8 by Richard Warnick on May 14, 2009 - 9:44 pm

      jd– Nobody is supporting the Bushies anymore, except possibly the twenty percenters. Once all the facts come out, I expect many of them will turn away in disgust.

  6. #9 by cav on May 14, 2009 - 7:26 pm

    How can you say it’s not about justice?

    How can you suppose that some legalistic reproach of the very acts so many of us have rejected is just a bunch of troublesome blather?

    Seems to me that remaining in denial of just what we’ve been doing in this world is only going to perpetuate those very behaviors – If there’s no penalty, what would motivate the perps to alter their behavors? Instead, they just go on thinking they;re in charge. Are we to bow to them now, after we worked to see them gone?

    I do not think so.

  7. #10 by Cliff Lyon on May 14, 2009 - 11:26 pm

    JD, This is about revenge only for the most shallow for unAmerican partisans.

    As ugly as it will be to admit the corruption and failings of our country’s political leaders and by extension “we the people”, such cost pales in contrast to the sacrifices across the generations of American soldiers, civic leaders and righteous heroes in the pursuit of the highest national ideals domestically and internationally.

    IF we are to be the greatest democracy on Earth with a ‘rule of law’ above which there is no man, this is something we must do.

  8. #11 by .45 on May 15, 2009 - 9:00 am

    So impeaching Clinton for lying under Oath, for his tawdry affairs was completely justified. Let us say then that anyone in a position of trust that violates the law, no matter how small, be removed, and we the people move on to better people as our leaders.

  9. #12 by jdberger on May 15, 2009 - 9:22 am

    IF we are to be the greatest democracy on Earth with a ‘rule of law’ above which there is no man, this is something we must do.

    Then clearly you were in favor of impeaching Clinton for perjury, right?

    After all, it’s all dishonesty, right? Clinton lied under oath, Bush “lied” about WMD and “torture”. It’s just a matter of scale. In fact, it’s possible that Clinton did more damage to the country by flagrantly exploiting the inequities of the justice system for personal gain.

    So did ya? Did you support impeachment, Cliffy?

  10. #13 by Becky on May 16, 2009 - 8:51 am

    I read today that Newt Gingrich says we have a ‘absolute obligation to investigate‘. Of course, he’s talking about Pelosi, but can we assume by extension he believes anyone and everyone involved with the authorization of torture should be investigated? I think I’m going to take it that way.

    The way I see it, Gingrich couldn’t possibly be incensed unless there was something to this torture business after all.

  11. #14 by Cliff Lyon on May 16, 2009 - 9:00 am

    JD, You’re kidding right?

    Blow job = Torture? No all lies are created equal. There is lying about your personal life, respecting the privacy of others and there is lying about wars and nukes and terrorists deceiving congress and the American people on matters of life and death for themselves and millions.

    Should we expect anything less from you?

  12. #15 by cav on May 16, 2009 - 2:27 pm

    You almost have to admire such raw bone-headedness.

  13. #16 by Anonymous on May 17, 2009 - 6:36 am

    Under Oath in a US court of law, types of lies under questioning have no distinctions. They are all perjury. A felony.

  14. #17 by jdberger on May 19, 2009 - 10:09 am

    Lies by Democrats are for the “good of the country”.

    Lies by Republicans are an affront to all decency, a rent in the moral fabric and possibly the harbinger of the end of civilization.

    Right, Cliffy?

    • #18 by Richard Warnick on May 19, 2009 - 2:08 pm

      Lies by Democrats… can you give an example? Or are you still talking about something that happened ten years ago, and was ruthlessly exploited by the GOP?

  15. #19 by anonymust on May 19, 2009 - 1:30 pm

    It is funny to watch, by now there is no taking progressives seriously jd that are not outraged by Obama. They are weak and hypocrites, and when Obama falls, they will have nothing but the fond memories of hope (of) my father (comes back).

    People of reason will be there to pick up the pieces, as they always are and do.

  16. #20 by jdberger on May 19, 2009 - 2:30 pm

    I think that anger is the second phase of greiving, isn’t it Richard?

    From Harvard Law Professor, Jack Goldsmith:

    Former Vice President Cheney says that President Obama’s reversal of Bush-era terrorism policies endangers American security. The Obama administration, he charges, has “moved to take down a lot of those policies we put in place that kept the nation safe for nearly eight years from a follow-on terrorist attack like 9/11.” Many people think Cheney is scare-mongering and owes President Obama his support or at least his silence. But there is a different problem with Cheney’s criticisms: his premise that the Obama administration has reversed Bush-era policies is largely wrong. The truth is closer to the opposite: The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric. This does not mean that the Obama changes are unimportant. Packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric, it turns out, are vitally important to the legitimacy of terrorism policies.

    MORE OF McSAME … !!!!

    You can almost taste the irony.

    • #21 by Richard Warnick on May 19, 2009 - 3:26 pm

      I read the article earlier today. True enough, the torture and secret CIA prisons were already shut down when President Obama took office, and the OLC memos were rescinded in the waning days of the Bush administration.

      Guantanamo is still holding the leftover detainees after Bush released most of them. None have been released or transferred so far this year. It looks like there is resistance in Congress to shutting down Bush’s extra-legal prison.

      The idea of re-instating the military commissions is wrong, as I have blogged here. If the Obama administration continues on the same course as Bush’s so-called “war on terror,” using the same methods, he’ll be taking the country further down the path of failure.

      That said, there is a lot we don’t know about internal battles with Bush holdovers, CIA bureaucrats anxious to escape responsibility, etc.

  17. #22 by anonymust on May 19, 2009 - 3:27 pm

    …and iron leaves a metallic bitter taste…

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