Monday, December 06, 2004

Authorizing torture

How much more evidence do we need before it becomes undeniable that torture is officially sanctioned by the Bush regime? Clearly, it was a policy decision to encourage torture of prisoners -- nothing else can explain why the Pentagon repeatedly ignored notifications from a wide variety of sources: the Red Cross, the F.B.I., even its own internal auditors. Alberto Gonzalez's musings on how torture could be legally justified were not just abstract exercises, but were (as we would expect from the White House Counsel) justifications for existing policy.

Torture is what the Pentagon wanted, and it's what the Pentagon got. And it's still going on.

People have said, rightly enough, that future one paragraph encyclopedia entries on Bill Clinton will highlight his impeachment and its sordid underpinnings. Historians will no doubt make much of the fact that many Americans seemingly didn't mind Clinton's behavior, with some pointing to how it signified the diminished moralizing fiber of the country.

Likewise, it now seems virtually inevitable that, decades hence, the first lines in potted histories of the Bush regime will mention its sanctioning of torture as a scandal to the core values the country. Likewise, historians will make much of the fact that many Americans seemingly didn't mind the regime's behavior, with some pointing to how it signified the diminished moral fiber of the country.

Remind me, which is the party of "values"? The one that gives torturers a free pass, or the one that gives philanderers a free pass?


zachawry said...

Unfortunately, I don't see many Dems standing up against the practice of torture, either. Does that make then just as complicit in your eyes, Nils?

purpleprose said...

Zak, in a word: no. Their lack of resistance makes the Democrats feckless -- accessorites during and after the fact. But they are not the originators and perpetrators of the crimes.

Aaron Radcliffe said...

That would be Gonzales, Nils. I agree with you that the Administration has been complicit in the torture of these prisoners, in contravention of the Geneva Conventions. I wrote about this recently.

However, an important question that deserves discussion is how appropriate an instrument is Geneva in modern "anti-terrorist" warfare. Phil Carter recently touched on this in an excellent article on this issue in Washington Monthly.

The point raised by the other commentator re: complicity of the Dems is not very ingenuous. The Dems have disagreed with the Administration on several fronts: Mr. Kerry in fact spoke of putting in place a fairer system to try the prisoners. His wife has publicly said they ought to be treated as POWs, a position also taken by the K-E campaign.

However, the Dems have not come out on this as sharply as they might have: it's an image issue. They've gotten enough of an undeserved reputation for being dangerously dovish, and likely see a fight for fair treatment of our enemies as something easily manipulable to the (perceived) tastes of red-staters.

Aaron Radcliffe.

purpleprose said...

Gonzalez... yes, a typo, now corrected. Thanks, Aaron.

zachawry said...


If the Dems get a pass because they are not the "originators and perpetrators" of the crimes, merely silent bystanders (and I don't think a couple general comments by Kerry and his wife about fair trials even begins to comprise serious moral credibility as objectors to torture), then so does 99.99% of the Republican party as well. By your definition, only those actively involved, such as Gonzales, Rumsfeld, and the guys performing the actual torture, are complicit.

Sure the Dems are tied by their need not to appear "soft", and the other 99.99% of Republicans not actively involved in the decision to torture people have no incentive to rock the boat, but this pretty much lets everybody get off scott free.

purpleprose said...

I agree with you, Zak, that the Democrats on the Hill are complicit. But they're not "just as" complicit (your original question). And I don't know of any Democrats who have *actively defended* the Bush regime's support for torture, whereas there are quite a number of Republicans who have.

There are erros of omission and there are errors of commission; the latter are virtually always worse. And virtually all the errors of commission in the post-9-11 pursuit of terrorists have been commited by Republicans. (This is partly a byproduct of the fact that the Republicans hold power; I buy the argument that the Democrats would have done [and would do] the same if they held power. But the fact is that they don't hold power and therefore they have not had the opportunity to commit the same crimes as the Republicans -- opportunities the Republicans have eagerly seized.)

zachawry said...

Fair enough.