Saturday, October 06, 2007

Breaking the Circle of Torture

This week, the New York Times published a shocking investigative report on how the Bush/Cheney administration persistently has given its imprimatur to torture, an imprimatur made indelible by the administration's equally persistent -- and unconstitutional -- violation of congressional statutes and Supreme Court decisions. As Glenn Greenwald wrote, these detailed revelations --
involve the now-familiar, defining attributes of this administration -- claims of limitless presidential power, operating in total secrecy and with no oversight, breaking of laws at will, serial misleading of the Congress and the country and, most of all, the shattering of every previous moral and legal constraint on our national behavior."
Yet, as Greeenwald also points out, "None of this is new."
It has long been known that we are torturing, holding detainees in secret prisons beyond the reach of law and civilization, sending detainees to the worst human rights abusers to be tortured, and subjecting them ourselves to all sorts of treatment which both our own laws and the treaties to which we are a party plainly prohibit.
* * *
And we have decided, collectively as a country, to do nothing about that. Quite the contrary, with regard to most of the revelations of lawbreaking and abuse, our political elite almost in unison has declared that such behavior is understandable, if not justifiable. And our elected representatives have chosen to remain largely in the dark about what was done and, when forced by court rulings or media revelations to act at all, they have endorsed and legalized this behavior -- not investigated, outlawed or punished it.
Scott Horton reminds us that all of this became possible only after Bush and his henchmen engineered a purge in the U.S. Justice Department.
Extremely conservative lawyers who, whatever their political convictions, still believed in the enforcement and application of the law, were taken out. And in came a new team of “loyal Bushies,” people who understood their sole duty to be to implement the personal will of George W. Bush. In the immortal words uttered last week by John Yoo, “Every subordinate should agree with [the President’s] views so there is a unified approach to the law.” Yes. It’s called the F├╝hrerprinzip. But it sounds so much more convincing in the original German.
Predictably, Bush followed these revelations by once again denying in a conclusory kind of way that the U.S. endorses torture. But, also predictably, he offered no supporting facts, wouldn't take questions, and lowered the veil of government secrecy against the prying eyes of fellow Americans.

Even in his denial Bush the F├╝hrer further stained the presidential seal by advancing the cause of despotism and lawlessness. In the current issue of Time Magazine, Massimo Calabrisi (son of the former Yale Law dean and now Second U.S. Circuit Court judge) explains why: Bush's denial endangers the lives of our troops, now and in the future; indeed, it puts at risk the lives of everyone who may be taken into custody abroad, from the Buddhist monks of Burma to the dozen demonstrators from Cameroon who were arrested in Nigeria for peacefully pleading for political asylum in front of a U.S. embassy, to innocent American tourists.
Every time Bush asserts that the U.S does not torture, he is not just undermining his own credibility, he's diminishing the Red Cross too. "It's a downward spiral," says Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First. "If I'm the ICRC and I'm visiting [abused] prisoners in, say, Egypt, the Egyptians will say 'What are you going to do? The U.S. says this isn't torture.'"

Worse, if a dictator in some god-forsaken part of the world captures an American soldier, the U.S. may protest. But it is the Red Cross's assertions of a violation that will be the immediate point of pressure on the captors.

"What it virtually guaranteed is that dictatorships will cite the U.S. government's own arguments to defend themselves and that will make it harder for the ICRC and everyone else to condemn and shame those governments," says Tom Malinowski, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch.

Jon Swift essentially made the same point this week in his bitingly satirical way. In "the torture race," he argued, "we need to stay just one small step behind the enemy. "
If they ratchet up their interrogation techniques, we need to ratchet up ours, making sure that they always stay just a little bit more evil than us so that we can retain our moral superiority.
A few months ago in Salon, Gary Kamiya wrote that the Bush administration "is a lot of things" --
a secretive cabal, a cavalcade of incompetence, a blood-stained Church Militant, a bad rerun of "The Godfather" in which scary men in suits pay ominous visits to hospital rooms.
"Impeachment," he admitted, "is the logical solution." Likening Bush at the head of America to a "bad marriage," he pointed out that the head of the family turned out to be --
A complete dud. * * * Bush cheated on us, lied, besmirched our family's name and spent all our money, we the people, not to mention our elected representatives and the media, seem content to stick it out to the bitter end.
Why then, he asked, "was Clinton, who was never as unpopular as Bush, impeached for lying about sex, while Bush faces no sanction for the far more serious offense of lying about war?" Or, his torture orders for that matter?

For two interrelated reasons, Kamiya suggested. "The main reason is obvious: The Democrats think it's bad politics."
The truth is that Bush's high crimes and misdemeanors, far from being too small, are too great. What has saved Bush is the fact that his lies were, literally, a matter of life and death. They were about war. And they were sanctified by 9/11. Bush tapped into a deep American strain of fearful, reflexive bellicosity, which Congress and the media went along with for a long time and which has remained largely unexamined to this day. Congress, the media and most of the American people have yet to turn decisively against Bush because to do so would be to turn against some part of themselves. This doesn't mean we support Bush, simply that at some dim, half-conscious level we're too confused -- not least by our own complicity -- to work up the cold, final anger we'd need to go through impeachment. We haven't done the necessary work to separate ourselves from our abusive spouse. We need therapy -- not to save this disastrous marriage, but to end it.
"There is an immoral crime of the highest order being committed in America, and somebody is morally responsible," Third World Traveler said a month ago. We all are morally responsible unless we try to stop it.

Democrats in Congress are as morally responsible as the Republicans, unless they try to stop it. Judges on the bench are as morally responsible as the rest of us, unless they try to stop it. A mere handful of ordinary citizens and neighbors are as morally responsible as all the rest of us. As Christopher Dodd reminds us, that was the lesson his father and the allied powers taught at Nuremberg.

Because Bush's endorsement of torture, no matter what he claims otherwise, threatens to have lasting negative effects on the moral standing of the United States and the safety of everyone at risk here and abroad -- including our troops -- impeachment no longer should be viewed as "off the table," as Rep. Nancy Pelosi claimed. Scarecrow at Firedog Lake has it right:

Impeachment is the Constitutional remedy the Founders provided for exactly this disease. It should be attempted even if it fails, because it’s the right thing to do, and because we owe it to those who follow to say we tried and did not submit to this wrecking crew without a struggle.
There is no other way to break the circle of torture that has become the morally bankrupt policy adopted in America's name by George W. Bush.


Anonymous said...
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panicbean said...

Honestly. The above post is such an insult to the wonderful commentary I just finished reading. Can't we make it stop?

And who will be moral enough to impeach Bush? Apparently there are no morals left in this country, 9/11 did away with those as well as our freedoms.