Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Bushies' Monte Cassino moment?

One way to look at the shifting debate over torture in this country is to see the Bushies as having been, almost continuously, backpeddling -- engaged in a carefully planned series of retreats to previously prepared lines of defense, much akin to the Nazi defense of Italy against the Aliies during WW II.

Line 1
During Bush's first term, the line of defense was: "We do not torture. There was no torture! You've got nothing to prosecute us for. Nothing!"

Then the Abu Ghraib pictures happened. 

And with it fell that first and most robust line of defense.

Line 2
Over the course of Bush's second term, the Bushies' main line of defense was: "OK, yeah, sometimes we torture. But it's our POLICY not to torture. You can't prosecute political leaders for what a few 'bad apples' do!"

Now the OLC memos have come out.

After a bitter last stand by some brave footsoldiers, it's clear that this line of defense is being abandoned, and the Bushies are scrambling to assume their positions at the third line of defense, which they have been carefully preparing for some time.

Line 3
That new line of defense is: "OK, yeah, yeah, torture was our policy. But torture WORKED. You can't prosecute political leaders for doing stuff that worked to keeping the country safe!"

We'll see if that line works.

Line 4
If it doesn't, you can already see the next (and presumably final) line of defense, which is even now being prepared: "OK, yeah, yeah: we do torture, and yeah, doing so was in fact our policy, and yeah, OK, it didn’t work. But we thought in GOOD FAITH that it would work. You can't prosecute political leaders for something that was done in good faith!"


Mick said...

I generally concur with what you're saying but as always, the demarcation between them is less than clear - you hear 3 and 4 being made at the same time. You are also missing the "this is hurting America" argument to publicize this line which Hayden, for example pushes in the video below.

John Stewart also highlighted Rove's unbelievable "these techniques are now useless because we talked about them in public". The response to which is clearly, how useful can it be to try to convince the same person that you are drowning them by waterboarding them 183 times? Surely it becomes useless pretty damn quick?

Nils said...

The question is what's the primary line of defense. That's why the military metaphor is apt. During the Italian campaign, even as the main fighting was happening along the Monte Cassino line, other German troops were busy preparing the Gothic Line --in case the first one fell. And that was crucial work.

In the case of rhetorical argument, preparing the next line is partly about shopping around arguments to see what's going to work. But the fact that the "good faith" argument is already being shopped shouldn't deceive us that the main line of defense isn't ahead of it.

This gets to the main point I was trying to make. Some people have claimed that Cheney is going on the offensive this week by saying that "torture worked" -- whereas in fact I see that as a huge tactical retreat. Once he goes here, it means he can't ever go back to the argument about "bad apples," much less to the "we don't torture" argument.

As for Hayden, that's a separate defensive strategy altogether -- the equivalent of guerrilla warfare.