Over Easy: The Torture Report
It is difficult to top Charlie Pierce’s eloquent comments on the torture report. (This quote is from the second of three pieces he wrote on Tuesday, and all are worth reading.) So please allow my less-eloquent rant to be a follow up.
Today, with the release of the executive summary of the congressional investigation into the American torture program, we have lost forever the right to moral leadership that we claimed at Nuremberg, and at the tribunals that investigated the actions of the Japanese in the Pacific. Those proceedings were based in two fundamental beliefs: a) that there are some activities that are beyond the law, even in wartime, and b) that the people responsible for those activities, even the worst of them, deserve a fair trial, and a trial that is open to the world, not only because the world needed to see the savagery of which humans are capable, but also because the trial would demonstrate to the world that there is a better way to resolve the issues raised by the native savagery of which people and nations are capable than the masturbatory exercise of blind vengeance.
What did we learn on Tuesday that we didn’t already know? We received details that we previously did not have, but it has been common knowledge for a long time that we “tortured some folks” with impunity, and with the approval of all three branches of the United States government.
And anyone who thinks we crossed some sort of “Rubicon” after 9/11 has not done any research on what being a prisoner of just about any state in the union has meant for most of our history. Condoned torture of prisoners in our care isn’t new or recent, and we have to know that torture is more than just “a little extra punishment” in service of our goals.
Put aside for a moment the details about which prisoner sat alone in a cell for how long before having his head slammed into a wall and his nuts fed to him. This information has been out there — and acknowledged by the participants — for years.
George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have frequently tied themselves in rhetorical knots to try to explain why torture isn’t really torture when the President orders it. Bush and Cheney admitted to ordering torture, and they have been proud and smug about it and still are. So why should anyone give more of a shit today than yesterday simply because DiFi dragged her hypocritical ass up to a microphone?
We should have been outraged more than a decade ago by what our government was doing, and we should have remained outraged ever since. Somehow during that more than 10 years of outrage, torture should have become part of what we are outraged about.
The only new thing which should be provoking outrage this week — and which I see very little about — is that Barack Obama, who is much better at wisecracking on Comedy Central or between two ferns than his predecessor was, made very clear to all of us that he had no more interest in revealing what was done in our name than did the administration of Shrub. The Obama administration is a little more facile at getting us to look over there while they are performing slight of hand over here, but early in the week they made it crystal clear to all that they did not want this report on torture (that we all already knew about) to be released and confirm what we already knew. The Obama administration preferred instead that we hold off until the report about what we already knew might have have less impact on relations with people who would be expected to be unhappy reading a report officially verifying what we (and they) already knew we did.
If we want to freak out about something, then freak out over the fact that someone who is supposed to be a part of the solution spent the past few weeks attempting to prevent this information from ever coming out officially.
From Obama’s statement about the release of the torture report,
One of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better.
If we are to “openly confront our past,” as President Obama would like, we must first, not oppose the release of the fucking redacted executive summary, let alone the full unredacted report.
If we are to “face our imperfections,” we must not continue to try to hide the naked truth about what we’ve done.
If we are to “make changes,” we must make sure those who were architects and practitioners of these crimes are never again allowed to get near the levers of power. And, we must vow to make real changes by putting these war criminals on trial and sending them to prison for the rest of their lives. Starting with Dick Cheney.
Not only does our failure to “refight old arguments” give millions of Americans, and tens of millions around the world, the impression that we regard it as not worth serious internal sacrifice and honest self-criticism, but makes it clear to them that American elites honestly believe they are above the law, now and in the future.
In other words, Mr. Obama, with all due respect, take your soaring rhetoric and shove it. Purge your administration, prosecute the criminals. We can’t “look forward” until we’ve cleaned house, and clearly our house is very dirty.
Seal of the C.I.A. – Central Intelligence Agency of the United States Government. Image in the public domain.
Photo of Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush from Wikimedia Commons. in the public domain.