23 January, 2009

Some Things Must Neither Be Forgiven Nor Forgotten

It will take years, perhaps decades, before the full scope of the catastrophe Bush visited on this country is understood. But I already know what I will never forgive him for:

Of all the horrible things done by America over the last 8 years, nothing was more shameful than the formalization, the normalization, of torture.

It was the 2004 election which sealed the shame, for America knew, Americans knew, indeed all the world knew that torture had happened. Was happening. Would continue to happen if George Bush was reelected. I still don't know what Americans thought that election was about, but to many of us from outside it was about whether Americans were the sort of people who would elect George Bush once he had shown them his soul.

America then showed its soul to the world, and it was hard not turn aside in contempt and disgust. Hard to look at what the shining city on the hill, the nation which stood against both Nazism and the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union, had become.
America before Bush had been far from perfect, but no matter what dumbass thing we did, no matter what stupid mistakes or unethical bullshit we engaged in, I could at least say we didn't take pride in torturing people. We'd drawn a bright line and refused to step over it. Until Bush.

Everything else he did - destroying the economy, weakening the government to the point where it couldn't respond to disasters like Katrina, raping the environment, ignoring global warming, warrantless wiretapping, even invading Iraq based on lies - all of that pales in comparison to the fact that he took us over that line. He made us into a nation of torturers.

Christopher Hitchens, who had to be waterboarded before he discovered what torture was, still thinks it wasn't Bush's fault. He blames the masses:
Continuing his discourse on torture policy, Hitchens then claimed that the Bush administration's commitment to harsh interrogation techniques, which he considers torture, derived from a desire among Americans for a more “ruthless” government. “It has to be admitted by every American that in the majority after the 9/11 Commission, people wanted an administration that was much more ruthless than the one they'd had on September the 10th,” he said.

“I know something for a sure thing,” Hitchens continued. “The demand for torture and other methods I would describe as illegal, the demand to go outside the Geneva conventions — all this came from below. What everyone wants to say is this came from a small clique around the vice-president. It's not educational. It doesn't enlighten anyone to behave as if that were true. This is our society wanting and demanding harsh measures.”
Poor, pathetic President Bush. He was only doing what the unwashed masses told him to. The people were screaming for blood, and so he gave it to them.

Bull. Shit.

I know that Americans were hurt, scared, angry and looking to lash out after 9/11. But I didn't hear a deafening demand for our government to start torturing people. Even if the people had demanded that, it's why we have representative government. We choose leaders to lead. And a leader's responsibility is to ensure cooler heads prevail.

Instead, Bush took the opportunity to turn us into a nation of torturers.

He and his apologists are doing their level-best to convince us that the past is best left in the past, that Bush's torture regime kept us safe, that without torture we're all going to be murdered by terrorists. It's Jack Bauer thinking. They can't separate fantasy from reality:

We are supposed to feel bad for Jack Bauer, the lead character on FOX's hit show "24." Only he and a handful of his colleagues, it seems, have the moral strength necessary to do what has to be done. While Senators whine and his superiors wring their hands about what is "right," Bauer acts and saves the nation.

What this means - and has meant for more than six seasons of "24" - is that Bauer is a not-so reluctant torturer. He beats up the bad guys because, as he has said so many times, "there is no other way."

The reality is that there are more reliable and effective ways. Resorting to torture isn't heroic, it's stupid. Reliance on it has resulted in strategic mistakes and has made the nation less safe. The torture chorus has yet to document a single instance of a "but for" success, and that refusal looks more and more like a criminal cover-up.

I taught interrogation and the law of war for 18 years to U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine interrogators. The truth is that torture is just as likely to lead to false information or no information, not solid intelligence. History is replete with victims who have refused to talk or lied or died under torture. American torture has killed or addled suspects who might have provided vital intelligence if interrogated humanely. One problem with TV fiction is that viewers assume that if Jack Bauer can break some fingers and crack the case in an hour, anyone could.

Unfortunately that is exactly the message that some have gleaned from this program. After watching torture work over and over again, some junior soldiers (and, sadly, some very senior policy makers who ought to know better) have copied the tactics they have seen on "24" and other action programs, according to evidence gathered by journalists and Human Rights First. Military educators have also reported that "24" is "one of the biggest problems" they have in their classrooms.

How fucking pathetic is it that any teenager in the country (well, aside from the budding Republicons) will, when asked, explain very calmly and rationally that there's a clear difference between what works in Hollywood and what works in the real world, yet the fucktards who were in charge of our government and the delusional fools in our armed forces think 24 is an instructional video?

This is what Bush and his cronies wrought. The fact they decided torture was necessary and efficient led a lot of people to believe the same, because they're our leaders and people trust their leaders to do what is right.

Of course, it seems Cons have a hard time distinguishing between right and wrong:

From the new WaPo/ABC poll:

A majority of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll oppose the use of torture in terrorism investigations, backing Barack Obama's pledge that "under my administration, the United States does not torture."


Overall, 58 percent support the prohibition Obama declared before taking office, but there's a wide gap across party lines: 71 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents in the poll said torture should never be used, but most Republicans, 55 percent, said there are cases in which the U.S. should consider using torture against terrorism suspects.

Funny how that "right and wrong/black and white" world conservatives love so much turns gray when it comes to torture.

And on Gitmo:

In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 53 percent of Americans said the United States should shutter the controversial facility, finding another way to deal with the prisoners under custody there. But a sizable proportion of all adults polled, 42 percent, and a broad majority of Republicans, 69 percent, said terrorism suspects should remain at Gitmo. Most Democrats, 68 percent, and independents, 55 percent, said they'd prefer another way.

Apparently, when Hitchens and the rest of the Villagers talk about "what Americans want," they're only talking to Cons. It presents a rather warped view of what the majority of the country knows to be right.

And the majority of us know that there will be no going forward, that our moral authority cannot be restored, until there is an accounting for the war crimes Bush and his regime committed:

Even more surprisingly for spouters of conventional wisdom, a majority of Americans (50-47%) believe that the Obama administration should investigate whether the Bush administration's treatment of detainees was illegal. When asked: "Do you think the Obama administration should or should not investigate whether any laws were broken in the way terrorism suspects were treated under the Bush administration?," Democrats overwhelmingly favor such investigations (69%), while Republicans oppose them by the same margin, and independents are slightly against.
This number was obtained despite the 24/7 yawping of pundits, gassbags, opinion-makers, and other self-important fools telling us all how vital it is that Obama move on, forget the past, and incidentally hang on to the torture option because you never know when you're going to need to break a few fingers to stop a ticking time bomb. A hair-thin majority, but still a majority, hasn't fallen for the lies. They know it's important to prosecute those who broke countless laws and destroyed our country's moral standing.

We have to set things right, but not just for us. The world is watching. So are our adversaries:

One hesitates to say this will amount to anything, but Marc Lynch notes that Mohammed Essam Derbala, a leader of Ayman Zawahiri's Egyptian terrorist group that merged with Al Qaeda in 1998, today urged his former confederates to declare a unilateral ceasefire to "test Barack Obama's pledges to establish a new relationship with the Islamic world and to close Guantanamo."


Let's be clear about a few things. Derbala has no power to call for or enforce any Al Qaeda ceasefire. But consider how overwhelmingly significant it is that a former terrorist of such obvious credibility would say something like this. And why'd he say it? Because Barack Obama just renounced torture. He put the United States on a clear path to repudiating the detentions, interrogations and, as important, humiliations that Muslims consider the U.S. to have inflicted not just on terrorists, but the entire Muslim world. Part of Al Qaeda's entire propagandistic message is that the U.S. is an unchanging brutish entity determined to subjugate the Muslim world. What Obama did today severely complicates that narrative. But it's not enough for us to consider the narrative to be complicated -- it takes Muslim figures of credibility to say so. That's what Derbala just did.

Imagine that. In the real world, not torturing people makes you safer and more secure. We should ask the producers of 24 to break the news to Jack Bauer - otherwise, the Cons will never understand the truth.

And the truth is this:

We must wipe the grime and filth from the walls of that shining city on a hill. We must relight the beacons. If we are to do any good in this world, we must go forward with prosecutions, hold our own war criminals accountable just as we have those in countless other countries.

We can't forgive, and we can't forget. Not this. We have to love our country enough to hold those who broke her most fundamental laws to account, or there will be nothing left of that shining city but ruins.


Anonymous said...

in 1945, upon liberating a Concentration Camp in Germany, the British officer in command of the unit was so sickened at what he found he went to the local village, and forced every man, woman and child to walk the 2-3 miles to the camp, then walk round it, and they were later forced to help in the clear up. The message was clear.

You knew.

Gitmo is no Belsen, but Hitchin's point is the same.

You knew.

The US allowed itself to be lied to over Iraq. No Al Qaida, no WMD. You re-elected war criminals, because the opponent was clever, not a 'six pack', and 'looked a bit French' (Which would be a weird insult even in England, and we've got 1000 years of history between us).

"I didn't vote for him, but he's still my president". I realise there were those who were opposing Bush- I have only been reading your blog a few months, but I would not be surprised if you were a voice of dissent.

The problem is a majority of your country men allowed themselves to be lead by the very media the GOP sneers at as being to liberal, now they have grown some balls. Remember Hitchins himself underwent waterboarding BECAUSE HE SUPPORTED IT.

Your opposition- the Dems- allowed itself to be cowed, because otherwise they would be 'unAmerican'.

The population knew, approved, and in some cases demanded. McCarthy returned to the United States. And the population CONDONED the human rights abuses at Abu Ghrab and Gitmo.

For sea to shiny sea, a majority of your countrymen chose to ignore the voices of reason within, and without, and actively or passively endorsed torture.

Cujo359 said...

Yes, Last Hussar, you're right, we knew. And it was OK with some people here. Whether it was a majority, or just a focal and particularly spineless minority, I don't know.

Your mention of the "media" isn't quite correct. The GOP didn't just start that "liberal media" thing yesterday. It's been going on all the time that they were buying the news corporations up and consolidating them into organizations that mostly said only the things the GOP wanted to be said. We haven't had real news around here in a long time, at least on our TV screens.

We bear the shame of this, and the shame of Iraq. I think that Dana's point is valid, though. The people who run things need to be leaders. For a long time they haven't been.

BTW, Eisenhower ordered the policy that you're referring to re: concentration camps. Patton and Bradley seemed to support it wholeheartedly in their memoirs. I think facing the fact that you've done something wrong is a whole lot harder than telling someone else that they have.

Anonymous said...

I know it was done widely across Germany. I have actually seen something about a British officer who did it out of anger- I couldn't say who started being 'official'

Britain isn't totally without blame in Iraq. It's hard to judge another countrys media, but it did seem the opposition here was much more than the US. I remember how completely bias the US media was being shown to be- with reporters being quite clear how bias they were. It was very much the idea that if you criticised what the troops were doing, then you were criticing them.

The biggest difference with Britain is that TV can not be bias. By law they have to be evenhanded with politics. You tend to not get people being led by the TV.

I get the impression that your leaders get a softer ride than ours. Satire shows can be brutal- Spitting Image in the 80's re did the famous picture of Hitler dressed as a Teutonic knight as Mrs Thatcher- same picture, different head.

I think the most telling difference was the Coulric/Palin interview, where the right cried foul over 'trick questions'. Do What- they were trick questions? 'What newspapers do you read' is too hard? I've had harder questions than that at job interviews (which, Sarah, thats what that was, dear).

Jeremy Paxman would not have been so respectful. He would have taken the attitude that this woman is applying for the second highest post in the land (to a man in his 70s, who'd suffered in combat, had a dicky heart- I believe an insurance actury was quoted as giving a 20% chance of dieing in office), a position that is often seen as training for the White House. He would have spat out the bones, and the party wouldn't have been attacking him too much, because it just makes Palin look weaker. (Wiki Paxman). The US bought the whole WMD a lot easier than the UK.

Yes politicians should lead, but it is so much easier if your population are sheep.