Thursday, May 14, 2009

Torture Touches Everybody

Torture allegations may be a defining accusation of the Bush administration by history's standard, but that does not mean it cannot plague Democrats, too, as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is finding out and as the president is working to avoid. For a nation starting to come to terms with "enhanced interrogation techniques" and possible new photos of prisoner humiliation and mistreatment and the whole issue of torture and who's responsible, this is a time where some people are asking, At what point does the new government's cautious approach and the American people's earlier disinterest make it complicit in allowing torture to have occurred in the first place?

Just this week, Michael Kinsley wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post charging Americans with collusion in the awful deeds: "If you're going to punish people for condoning torture, you'd better include the American citizenry itself." Salon's Gary Kamiya similarly wrote, "How would these people react to an investigation of those Bush officials who planned and authorized the very deeds that they themselves supported?"

It may seem a tenuous argument at best to charge 56 million voters with complicity when they did not choose to re-elect George W. Bush in 2004 based solely on whether or not he approved waterboarding. But it might help to note that these facts were known before Americans went to the polls. Jacob Weisberg, in an article for Newsweek, lays out what we knew earlier than 2004. Various media outlets had already published reports of illegal extradition of suspected terrorists to CIA "black sites" in foreign countries, and knowledge of the excessive waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed along with photos from Abu Ghraib were widely written scandals.

Weisberg also does a fine job of recreating the atmosphere of fear fed by the Bush administration's warnings about the consequences of insufficient vigilence during those years. New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks remarked about it today and believes Pelosi should own up to participating in that atmosphere of uncertainty: "Why can’t she just tell the obvious truth? She was influenced by the climate of the time. In retrospect, she wishes she had raised her voice in protest." In an appearance at the Commonwealth Club of California last month, Pelosi did not mention the already simmering issues of torture.

After President Barack Obama choose this week to withhold the release of new photos of detainee abuse of terrorist suspects (taken as early as 2004), this issue looms as an issue for which Obama has taken ownership. In so doing, he raised the ire of the ACLU. The president's rationale of protecting the troops and avoiding to inflame the anger of the Muslim world is similar to the policy of the previous administration.

Today, Pelosi publicly charged the CIA and the Bush administration for misleading her about waterboarding, attempting to deflect Republican claims this week that she knew about the situation. "To the contrary ... we were told explicitly that waterboarding was not being used," CBS quotes her as telling reporters today in reference to a 2002 briefing she had with CIA officials.

Since another terrorist attack on U.S. soil has not materialized, this is a political issue of high energy but it's difficult to discern in terms of real impact. But a lot of Americans are concerned about who knew what when, what the real story is about the United States' involvement in torture, its effectiveness or ineffectiveness, and the consequences for U.S. soldiers, America's moral standing, and the rest of the world.

ACLU chief Anthony Romero makes no mystery of where he stands, as he told The Commonwealth Club April 30th. The video is below:

By Steven Tavares


Greg said...

This erudite review of the "moral hazards" of the Bush administration, as well as what is now expected from President Obama - and how he's already failing to demonstrate his commitment to the rhetoric that helped to get him elected - was one of the best hours I spent in at least the last week.

Will illegal actions be tolerated at the highest levels of government?

Will this administration turn its head and simply "look forward"?

Will this president bring real change to the way in which our government functions and how the office of the president affects our values and ethics, and will it be enough to make a real difference?

"For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic."
John F. Kennedy, Yale Commencement address, 1962 (


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