It’s great to see the growing outrage over the Bush Administration’s embrace of torture, and I haven’t the slightest doubt that the chorus of disgust will only build in coming years and decades (which is the time-frame required for a national shame of this magnitude). However, there are already contradictions popping up in the rhetoric, and these also will inevitably deepen as our society faces this most ugly of sins.
Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post expresses appropriate disbelief over the notorious Bybee memo dated August 2002 that not only allowed torture but absolved its practitioners as long as they had an ‘honest belief’ that pulling out a guy’s fingernails doesn’t really hurt. (He’s probably faking—you know these terrorists.)
Okay, I exaggerate. They were ‘only’ talking about waterboarding. But recall that Bybee and his thug colleagues over at Justice earlier wrote that only acts that could jeopardize vital organs or lead to death would be considered torture under the prissy-parsing new legalese. So who needs fingernails?
Robinson can’t believe that anyone would take seriously the legal acrobatics that let a government official off the hook just because he ‘honestly believed’ he was doing the right thing. The rest of us don’t get away with that when we, say, make an illegal left turn or, um, forget to declare all our income.
But Robinson forgets that the entire U.S. Congress with only a few noble exceptions just did exactly that when it buckled to Bush’s FISA law and gave the telecoms immunity for wiretapping us. So he’s got no business being shocked.
Torture came along because after 9/11, as I recall perfectly well, our airwaves and political journals were chock-full of discussions of theoretical events in which the bomb-carrying bad guy might get away with a crime if we didn’t torture the truth out of his captured friends. While dancing on the head of that pin for months afterward, we collectively enabled Bush and his mafia team to use that justification for massive, institutionalized abuses, the details of which we have only begun to learn.
The Jack Bauer prototype was born in the aftermath of September 11 when the populace said yes to revenge and offered the Constitution on a tray in exchange for its safety. That is the nasty little truth that has yet to come out, not just the sordid particulars of the enforcers’ crimes.