Sunday, April 26, 2009

Reclaiming America’s Soul

From the New York Times, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman states the obvious:

We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. “This government does not torture people,” declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.

And the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.


That said, there are a lot of people in Washington who weren’t allied with the torturers but would nonetheless rather not revisit what happened in the Bush years.

Some of them probably just don’t want an ugly scene; my guess is that the president, who clearly prefers visions of uplift to confrontation, is in that group. But the ugliness is already there, and pretending it isn’t won’t make it go away.

Others, I suspect, would rather not revisit those years because they don’t want to be reminded of their own sins of omission.

For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract “confessions” that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.

More here.

So it appears that the recent release of memos concerning "enhanced interrogation techniques" has spawned the torture debate that the mainstream news media should have been having back in 2004 when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. In its finer moments, the discussion has gotten lively, but for the most part, it's been lukewarm, with corporate journalists continuing to give the benefit of the doubt to torture supporters, granting legitimacy to points of view that have none. No surprise there, but this better-late-than-never exercise in the marketplace of ideas underscores the rhinoceros under the coffee table: there can be no debate about torture.

Okay, I'll allow some wiggle room for the classic ticking timebomb scenario in which fictional figures like Jack Bauer tend to find themselves time and again. But in the real world, such situations are exceedingly rare, and have very little to do with the kind of wholesale human rights violations practiced as official American policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay. What we're talking about is long running, chronic, systemic torture. Time bombs don't tick for months and years.

No, the stark reality is that torture is deeply immoral, perhaps worse than cold blooded murder. People who torture are evil, and any nation that knowingly and willingly practices torture is also evil. There is no "debate" about this. It doesn't matter whether torture is "effective." Torture is wrong. Wrong. In the unspoken margins surrounding this debate is the real discussion: should America become evil in order to fight evil? Nobody comes out and says it in quite this way, but that's what it's all about, to be evil or not to be evil.

Obviously, I support America being good. Anybody who does not is necessarily a supporter of evil and wants to drag our nation toward siding with the denizens of Hell. Anybody who does not speak out against torture is, through their silence, enabling this slide into Hell, and is arguably just as guilty as the torturers themselves. This includes Democrats, journalists, average ordinary citizens, and some close friends and family of mine. I am saddened to judge my loved ones in this way, but this issue is just about as black and white as any we've ever faced. Torture is evil. We cannot support it.

Allowing the guilty to go free is supporting torture. We lose our national soul if we don't bring these people to justice. We must act quickly.