Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Looking Forward To Torture

When President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for "all offenses against the United States," he stated that it was out of concern for the "immediate future of this great country."  He should have considered the longer term.

Inevitably, next came Iran-Contra. While the Republicans stacked the joint legislative committee undertaking the investigation with the conservative wing of their party (e.g., then-Representative Cheney), the Democrats relied mostly on moderates, and thus the committee members were skewed toward those who were disinclined to probe vigorously.  By rashly granting immunity to key witnesses such as Ollie North, the committee undermined prosecutions by an independent counsel.  The Iran-Contra Affair culminated in the pardon by first President Bush of several participants who had been implicated.  The lesson was that the president and his circle had nothing to fear from abuse of power. 

With the next Bush came more abuses, including the use of torture (and, by the way, illegal wiretapping).  But President Obama refused to seek any meaningful investigation, much less prosecution, of those who authorized or committed torture.   Much like President Ford, Obama claimed that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”  And more recently, he appeared to rationalize away the use of torture against "some folks" given the stress our "folks" were under in the wake of 9/11. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee's report, which has just laid out in gory detail the CIA's many shades of torture as well as making the case that these techniques were ineffective and counterproductive in obtaining useful intelligence, is perceived as a partisan attack on patriotic Americans who were trying to keep us safe.

In response, former Vice President Dick Cheney and his co-conspirators in the Bush Administration were permitted to flood the airwaves, where they were able to lie, literally with impunity.  They applauded torture's efficacy and provide the most offensive and amoral justifications for it without the kind of meaningful rebuttal that is anathema to network television.  Cheney was not merely unrepentant; he was positively boastful, gleefully acknowledging that despite 1/4 of tortured detainees being innocent of wrongdoing, no "seed of doubt" was planted in his soulless mind.  Indeed, he said, “I’d do it again in a minute.”

And as vile and odious as Cheney is, the Republican leadership (John McCain being the notable exception that proves the rule) has essentially endorsed his repugnant world view -- that anything to keep Americans out of danger as long as it isn't worse than what the terrorists did to us on 9/11 is morally acceptable, and that despite all evidence to the contrary, torture worked.  In essence, they would all "do it again in a minute."  (Significantly, Obama's CIA Director, John Brennan, isn't far from this position.  While he acknowledged the "shortcomings" of the torture program, he insisted that it resulted in obtaining intelligence that "saved lives.")

Thanks to the torture-enablers media blitz and Obama's acquiescence, a recent Washington Post poll showed that "by a margin of almost 2 to 1 . . . those interviewed said that they support the CIA’s brutal methods, with the vast majority of supporters saying that they produced valuable intelligence." 

President Obama came into office and, giving in to his bipartisan fetish, insisted on looking forward, not backward.  But, of course, we are not moving forward.  Without a true reckoning that confirms once and for all the immorality and illegality of torture, a reckoning that holds those responsible accountable, we remain stuck in a debate framed by self-serving Bush officials and their fellow travelers in the Republican Party about its efficacy.  And the winners of the debate will be whoever happens to inhabit the White House next.


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