Dec 17 2014
I have been saving my comment on the revelations of last week for a while. I wanted to think through my thoughts and also to read other peoples take on them. Probably what is most disturbing out of all the reactions are the statements from the really callous people who actual support the practice of torturing people. Of course Dick Cheney is unrepentant, that’s to be expected. As Jon Stewart quipped: “Dick Cheney is so mean, his own heart ran away from him.” What’s truly depressing for me though, is to hear the ringing endorsements of the practice from the same people who will lecture me again and again on how the United States of America is “exceptional”.
I went back and looked through some of my old posts and I found one I wrote in June of 2008 right after the Supreme Court ruled that the US had to bring charges against GTMO detainees. At the time, the denizens of the zoo known as Lex’s commenting section went positively berserk at the notion that the United States should somehow have to abide by its own laws, if it is to have any credibility in the world. I wrote this paragraph.
The contention that the prisoners in GTMO have no rights because they are persons without status, so called “unlawful combatants” is weak. If they have no rights why bother to bring them to GTMO? Shoot them on sight. We don’t do that because we want to show ourselves to the world as being above that type of brute force justice and in so doing prove ourselves better than those we fight-and who attacked the US in 2001. The people coming unglued because the Supreme Court agreed with that premise hang that whole thread on the fact that they are not worthy of legal considerations because they are not fighting on behalf of a state.
And they call me naive? GTMO as currently set up makes for bad law and for bad PR. Given that we claim we have extracted lots of intel from these guys-then we have probably more than enough evidence to convict-the argument that it will expose intelligence is just flawed from the start, we have ways to get that out with selling the farm. The situation at GTMO makes a hell of a publicity problem even with our allies. Even if people are not being tortured there, a significant portion of the world believes they are-and so our moral authority is undermined, even with those who agree with us. Furthermore when exposed to deep scrutiny-most of the claims that valuable intel has been compromised in terrorist trials has later been proven to be a false claim.
I wrote that back in June of 2008. Now, six and one half years later it has become readily apparent how right I was then. And it convinces me even more that I was right to condemn the reactionary positions then and take the side of those who criticize our actions now.
Consider how much damage we have done to ourselves and our arguments that we are of a higher “moral authority”.
In a civilized society, there really would be no debate over this. And before 9/11, there wasn’t. Ever since, this country has slid and then fallen out of the civilized world and out of the core American traditions of humanity and legal warfare. Krauthammer can be seen as emblematic of that slide – someone whose early abhorrence at torture and defense of it only in its mildest and rarest forms has slowly succumbed to a full-fledged defense of a program that violated every rule he said should be in place to protect us from the abyss. This is not surprising. When you start to torture, the sheer evil of what you are doing requires that you believe ever more in its value. You can never admit error, because it would mean you have committed crimes against humanity without even the defense of acquiring any useful intelligence. You are revealed as monsters – and you cannot accept that of yourself or of those you know. And so you insist – with ever-rising certainty – that the torture worked – even though that’s irrelevant as a matter of morality and of law, and even though your own internal documents prove that it didn’t.
And so you become the monster you were supposed to be fighting. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
One final point too. The people who have seized upon the idea that Diane Feinstein was some sort of renegade who had no business publishing the report is itself, a flawed conclusion. The report need to be published for one reason-the US needs to start the process of recognizing its complicity and guilt in the shameful episode in our history.
The torture report is simply the latest and most graphic incarnation of an existential leadership crisis that has eaten through Washington’s moral authority and ability to govern, in the way road salt and rust eat through car mufflers in a Buffalo winter. “America is great because she is good,” wrote Tocqueville back in the day. “If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” We’ve got a lot of explaining to do, not just to the rest of the world but to ourselves. How much longer will we countenance the post-9/11 national security state, which Edward Snowden’s ongoing revelations remind us are constantly mutating into new forms and outrages?