Thursday, January 21, 2010

Torture is What Our Enemies Do

The allegations of torture during the Bush administration have been seething for a long time. Somehow, the debate moved away from what was actually going on to what actually constituted torture. Where are the lines drawn?

It helps that the majority of Americans do not believe, nor would they wish to believe, that their own government would be complicit in such activity. (For the record, I don't want to believe that.) Their government knows how outraged the American people would be (I would be outraged), and how spiteful and divisive our nation would become, should it be revealed that a campaign of torture had made its way back into our policy decisions.

Torture is what our enemies do. We have dallied with evil in our past and overcome it. We have learned our lesson.

I wonder, then, where this news will go. Will the new allegations be found true, with all the culural fallout and recriminations that will follow? Or will there be no investigation by our legal system, government or people - consigning this messy investigation to the purview of future historians, so we don't have to face the possibility that a national evil happened on our watch?

As someone who reads history, I think we're going to end up with the latter. The current silence by the torture apologists signals that they don't want to qualify this with a resonse - responses they have been quick to offer in the past. However, I expect quick and brutal recriminations if this news actually does grow legs beyond the academic and liberal blogosphere.

How did we get here?

Torture apologists ignore history, religion, rationalism, results, and the spirit of our own legal tradition in favor of vindictive emotion. The rhetorical and legal backflips required to excuse this kind of behavior only worked within the scope of over-politization of the GWOT.

"What happened over the last 8 years was not torture," apologists begin, "These were more like fraternity pranks. These were 'enhanced interrogation' techniques that we use to train our own soldiers*."

"But even if it was torture," they rationalize, "these people are the worst of the worst. These individuals are responsible for horrible acts against Americans and our allies, so they deserve to be tortured. Oh, if we could only go ahead and torture them this whole war thing would be over."

"Even mentioning that some of our own brave forces might be engaged in committing torture is tantamount to treason," they politicize. "Why do you hate our soldiers? Why do you hate America? Why do you want to give terrorists constitutional rights, international rights and legal representation? You are with us or you are with the terrorists!"

Of course, torture opponents, anti-war types and Bush haters fell right into these political traps. "They're torturing people in our name," pronounced with a nasal whine, in the halls of academia or in homes decorated with marijuana paraphanalia, was just the image torture apologists wanted to show Joe Six-Pack. "Who do you believe, Joe," torture apologists asked, "the pothead layabout college crowd, or our brave soldiers?"

"Just following orders?" Opponents continued, "isn't that what the Nazis said? Didn't we punish people who did things like this for war crimes?" To which the apologists could now point, "they think American soldiers are Nazis. They want to arrest American troops and try them before the Hague! They really hate America."

That was the narrative for the last 8 years, and it continues to this day. Expect to see more of it if this story grows legs. Or tell your grandkids to expect it in their college history classes.

* Used to train our own soldiers how to resist torture."


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