Thursday, February 17, 2005

Torture: in the cards from day one

Some disillusioned liberal hawks (a la Andrew Sullivan) suggest that they couldn't have known that by supporting this President's post-9-11 tactics to combat Islamist violence they were implicitly signing up in support of torture. Well Andrew and others of a similar persuasion might do well to reread this passage from an essay Mike Davis wrote just weeks after 9-11:
Frustrated FBI investigators, like the French Sûreté before them, are lobbying to take recalcitrant suspects down to the scream-proof basement where the batteries and electrodes are kept. For the first time in American history there is a serious public campaign to justify torture in police interrogation. With the op-ed support of leading liberals like Jonathan Alter in Newsweek, the FBI wants access to methods that the Washington Post euphemistically characterized as "employed occasionally by Israeli interrogators." If US courts balk at such rough work, the alternative is to export the task to overseas professionals like the Mossad. "Another idea," the Post explained on 21 October [2001], "is extraditing the suspects to allied countries where security services sometimes employ threats to family members or resort to torture."
These suggestions turn out to have been largely implemented, as we can now read in the paper every day. But rereading Davis's passage also reminds us that anyone who claims that they couldn't have known that Bush's version of the GWOT included torture as a core tactic is simply being dishonest -- either with us, or with themselves. The mainstream press--Newsweek, the Washington Post -- were discussing it right there, in the immediate wake of the bombings.

In short, before the dust had even settled from 9-11, a debate was joined in the mainstream media about the merits of the use of torture (a debate which, incidentally, all but ignored that no amount of torture would have prevented the attacks). It was a debate that was really a litmus test concerning the American people's willingness to be ruthless with anyone even suspected of sympathizing with the 9-11 perps. While politicians for the most part avoided joining this debate, the Bushists made the shrewd political judgement that the very fact that such a debate could take place without eliciting a backlash was evidence they would be able to get away (politically speaking) with quietly giving the nod to torture. That we've all known from the beginning that torture was taking place also explains the lack of outrage (among Americans) to the ever-wider reports of the use of torture. Since we didn't react with outrage when the torture plans were first proposed, who are we to mime outrage now as we learn how it actually got implemented? In sum, Andrew Sullivan's "I'm shocked, shocked" routine just doesn't wash: we who did not voice outrage then are all complicit now -- and we know it.

Like Jefferson, I tremble for my country.

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