Friday, May 1, 2009

America either tortures people or it doesn't (updated)

Remember the debate over the torture issue? It was back before the fears of swine flu surfaced, so it's pretty ancient now...I think it was last Friday. Near as I can tell, the position of the old Bush guard (pun intended) is that we do not torture, but it doesn't matter anyway because it's not illegal to torture, which is not something we do, anyway. I'm pretty much sick and tired of the debate, but it is a debate that apparently must be had, because there are seemingly honest, intelligent people in this country who will say with a straight face that simulating drowning by covering a person's face and repeatedly dowsing them with water until they think they are on the verge of death is not torture, but "enhanced interrogation techniques," and that we shouldn't bother with any sort of investigations into the legality of such actions because...well, I guess it's because we have better things to do. Of course, Republicans are always complaining that government is too big, so perhaps we can just use some of the extra weight to conduct investigations and prosecutions, while the important and necessary parts of the government carry on. If the alleged wrongdoers didn't do anything wrong, then they've got nothing to hide, and what would be the harm in investigating, right? Right?

I can throw the quotes of Bushies back in their faces all day, and I'd love to do so, but here's the thing: to say that investigations and prosecutions of torture would "tear this country apart" is bullshit, plain and simple. This is not an issue of right vs. left, conservative vs. liberal, or whatever. It's a question of basic human dignity. It doesn't matter what our opponents do, or what they plan to do, or what they'd like to do to us. We (and by that I mean America) hold ourselves out as the "shining city on a hill" to inspire the peoples of the world. We have squandered every last bit of goodwill that we spent the first 200+ years of our history earning from the rest of the world in the supposed name of keeping ourselves safe from...something. The Bushies never would tell us exactly what...

Investigations and prosecutions are not just necessary, they are essential...not just to regain the world's respect, but to regain respect for ourselves. If this truly is a partisan issue, if there really is an argument to be made for legally sanctioned and clandestine torture, then let that argument be made out in the open, within the hearing of all Americans and the world, open to discussion and debate. If having such a debate would be damaging to our republic, if it would somehow damage our ability to "move forward," it does not matter. If we cannot address our own wrongdoing without ripping ourselves apart, then we are just prolonging the inevitable. America is more than a nation, and at the risk of sounding trite, it is an idea that has endured longer than most states ever have. America is a dream of freedom and liberty under law. Let those laws work, and if it tears us apart in the process, what was it that we were really holding together in the first place?

UPDATE: Gene Lyons at Salon has two excellent pieces on the genesis of this whole debacle here and here.

UPDATE II: Ditto for Gary Kamiya:
Those opposed to reopening the book on the Bush years argue that doing so would tear the country apart. They're right -- but they forget that the country is already torn apart. The gulf between Democrats and Republicans has never been wider. The Republican Party, the home of those who still defend the Bush years, has become a reactionary and increasingly marginal movement that is in fealty to crude demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and whose hysterical denunciations of Obama sound more and more unhinged.

What this means is that those Americans who would be truly outraged by an investigation are already outraged. It could not make them any angrier or more bitter than they already are. And even if it did, how much difference would that make? The GOP base already regards Democrats as terrorist-coddling communists. Are they going to all join militias?
I kind of suspect that Mr. Kamiya has not been to Texas recently, or he might not be so sanguine about the idea of Republicans joining militias. I still prefer that to everyone hiding their true colors.

I suppose it's possible that for some the battle lines have not yet been drawn. I certainly hope not, though.

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