I can only fathom that we are supposed to beg.
I think we are supposed to get down on our knees, even grovel for it, and beg that our nation act in accordance with its own laws, with international laws, and with basic decency. We among the more expendable classes are supposed to write passionate editorials; we are supposed to form grass roots movements; we are supposed to make the usual dozens of phone calls, and be ashamed, and debase ourselves -- and then, perhaps, if we are very lucky, and if beg enough and with the right arguments and place enough pressure in the right, most uncomfortable spots, then our own government will relent, and our laws will be followed, and investigations conducted, and if warranted, those responsible will be prosecuted. And we will finally as a nation, at long last, reject torture in practice as well as in words.
But they will not do it, unless they are bowed to it by the collective weight of their own citizens. That seems to be, still, the message: they will not acquiesce unless bludgeoned into doing it. It is ceded to us to decide if America will have the smallest shard of conscience, and once again the voices of basic decency will be cast as the unreasonable ones, the foolish ones, the troublemaking rabble pestering those that know better, and we shall have to rise above it yet another time.
That is the only conclusion I can come to. It seems transparently obvious to Washington, to the Obama administration and its allies, to the Republicans and the Democrats of Congress, to all the very important people working very serious jobs, that while we can with great fanfare and self-satisfaction no longer torture prisoners in our care -- a war crime, in any context not involving ourselves -- it is far more challenging a proposition to think that we would actually take steps to enforce the myriad laws and conventions against it.
And in that sense, torture by the United States of America is as good as legalized, because we have all but declared that it will never be that illegal, the kind of illegal that leads to investigations and punishment. It will merely remain a deplorable act -- a war crime, in any context not involving us doing the torture -- that we will never, ever use, except when we do, and without consequence. We will not condone it but, like in Serbia, or Guatemala, or Cambodia, or the thugs of any one of a hundred pissant groups and countries that used the practice to vicious effect, when to their advantage, we will ignore the laws, the treaties and conventions, and we will not prosecute our torturers. Or, God forbid, those that specifically ordered the practice. Or those that sought to legalize it, on pen and paper, with arguments comprehensible only to sociopaths or monsters.
It apparently needs to be stated, yet again, that this is not a case of seeking vengeance. When powerful people are caught in illegal acts, it is nearly always the case that they claim prosecuting them would be "vengeance": it never enters the minds of our leaders, whether they be in government or in business, that perhaps the law should be applied to them simply because it is the law. There always needs to be additional motive attributed; it goes nearly without saying that, without the additional motives of vengeance, or revenge, or punishment then naturally those in power are not held to the laws required of the rest of us. You know you have arrived, in America, when you can break a law at will and have the government itself argue against your prosecution on the grounds that doing so would be controversial or divisive.
Whether or not any of the parties involved are actually convicted, whether even a single one of them see a day of jail time is not the question. Whether we preclude that possibility, as policy of government, is the more damaging question. For in precluding even the possibility of justice, we immunize the act, and if we immunize the act then it is not, in any meaningful sense, actually illegal.
It is not about revenge: it is about demonstrating that even for the most powerful among us, even for our own government, there are laws, and they are not optional. It is about demonstrating that we are a country in which law has a substance that overrides the credentials of the person breaking it. It is the brightest shining example of what we as a nation are or are not: it is our moral measure.
Knowing that torture was condoned in our names is an abominable thing. This parlor game of moving forward, not backward, of letting bygones be bygones, admitting error, and just getting the hell on with our days is just as dismal, because this, finally, internalizes the message that we citizens, our government, and other nations will take from this sorry affair, which is that while we begrudgingly acquiesce to stopping, we will, even now, refuse to recognize the act itself as truly criminal.
There is absolutely no pride to be gained in no longer torturing, but blocking justice in those instances in which we have. It is no act of courage; it is no enlightened position. It is merely the easiest path, and the one followed in nearly every instance by nations proven to have committed foul acts. Sorry, but we're not about to do anything about it. We'll stop, but in exchange for stopping we expect the episode to be forgotten. What would count as a war crime for you other countries counts for us as an internal matter, and we consider it closed.
I do not feel like begging. After years of railing against the practice (to be largely ignored, because in those days the majority of voices presumed torture to have positive effects, and therefore be justified), after years of government denial that any such thing was happening (in spite of clear and demonstrable evidence that it did), the last thing in the world that I feel like doing is once again begging, at long last, and to the supposed reasonable people that replaced the last reasonable people, that we actually follow our own goddamn laws, or treat crimes by our powerful with the same grave manner as we do crimes by anyone else in the nation.
I am fucking sick of it, and I am fucking sick of hearing how we have entered a new age of enlightenment merely because we have stopped a transparently abominable practice, one that we condemn with vigor when undertaken by any other nation. I am fucking sick of myself, my compatriots and the rest of the public having to act as collective conscience for all those in power that, apparently, have long since evolved past even common sense, much less common shame.
I know by tomorrow or next week I will relent, and I will start the cause anew, and I will join all the others in penning yet another fervent message explaining why, at long last -- at long fucking last -- we cannot simultaneously condemn torture and yet declare a casual, dismissive amnesty for all those that ordered it, and planned it, and justified it, and executed it, under the usual theory of the powerful that crimes by the powerful simply cannot be prosecuted lest chaos or embarrassment ensue.
But for today, I can only say damn you all to hell. Damn you all for making us -- us, of all people, average citizens with no positions of power, with no power at all save whatever we can wring out of the thin air, and with nothing at stake but a sense of shared, basic, foundational morality -- yet again rail for our own country to exercise a shred of the morality, the justice, the national greatness that it professes for all to hear. I was once outraged; I was, after that, ashamed; now I am only incredulous. With every passing day my nation acts less like a guiding beacon, and more like a crook.
Over at the Congressional Budget Office, they've announced the composition of this year's Health Advisory Panel. "We host periodic meetings of the advisers at our office and solicit their views between meetings via e-mail exchanges and conference calls.[...]
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Dick Cheney's role in politics since he left the White House comes straight out of an iconic American film by Frank Capra.
"Obama is positioning the Democrats as the party of order, responsibility and small-town values," David Brooks writes in the New York Times today. "If he pulls this mantle away from the Republicans, it would be the greatest train robbery in American politics."
Where the conservative Brooks sees theft, the less ideological may find an expectable reaction to eight years of Bush lawlessness and loony laissez-faire. There is an indication of this in new Gallup figures on the relative mistrust of business and government
Historically, Americans have always been more wary of those who want political power than money. In handing out control of the then-limited capacity of radio and later television, for example, they set severe limits on the sales of ideas but practically none on peddling everything else.
That traditional mistrust of government power, Gallup reports, "expanded greatly in the 1990s--reaching a high of 65% in 1999 and 2000."
But Bush changed that: "In 2002, after the wave of accounting scandals at companies like Enron and WorldCom, opinions shifted, and the percentage mentioning big business as the greatest threat peaked at 38%, while concern about big government dipped below the majority level for the first time since 1981," then returned to normal "until the recent financial crisis caused more to fear the power of big business."
Now Americans, to Brooks' consternation, are putting their faith in big government to clean up the mess.
"Obama understands," he writes, "that this is primarily an authority crisis. A system Americans have trusted--the market--has failed in important ways. He has found a theme and bids to reassert authority. But he will seem like an impostor and a manipulator if he imposes responsibility on everybody but himself."
His worry is understandable, but there is no alternative to taking that risk. Obama is now the only game in town, and all the chips are on the table.
As John Bogle, a champion of capitalism who founded the Vanguard Funds, puts it in the Wall Street Journal:
"(S)elf-interest got out of hand. It created a bottom-line society in which success is measured in monetary terms. Dollars became the coin of the new realm. Unchecked market forces overwhelmed traditional standards of professional conduct, developed over centuries."
It will take a lot of brains and guts to get through what Bogle describes as "a crisis of ethic proportions," and most Americans will not be fussy about whether they are Democratic or Republican.
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Andrew Sullivan had an interesting point yesterday about the whole torture memo controversy -- and particularly Dick Cheney's claim that he wants the release of other documents which he says demonstrate the effectiveness of his torture tactics. Cheney's[...]
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It's nice when little stories grow and grow. For instance, Todd Tiahrt's pronouncement Rush[...]
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Rush Limbaugh joined Great Van Susteren last night and spent about 15 minutes bashing President Obama for everything from shaking Hugo Chavez' hand to thinking he's a GOD-like man, who has a messianic complex---who hates America which was immoral until he took office, but still he wants to destroy.
This was a particularly painful segment to watch so I just picked a few minutes out of the many distortions and smears that I could stomach. This man can spew garbage at record levels and he surely holds a place in the Guinness World Book of Records for the trash he can deliver.
Limbaugh: I think we're looking at a person with a God or messianic complex, certainly narcissistic, who looks at these trips, not just to Central America and the G20 in Europe. Looks at all these trips as making it about "him." The US is an immoral and unjust until "he" was elected...and President Obama wants to tear apart the foundation that built this country into the greatest country in the wold, American exceptionalism and make it in an image that is closer to something that would be approved of by Daniel Ortega and people like Hugo Chavez.
Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) has just released a letter she sent to Attorney General Eric Holder. Harman calls on Holder to give her all materials related to the government wiretapping of her, and to the investigation into her, so that she can release them publicly.
Harman also, crucially, takes her denial further than yesterday, saying she never contacted either DOJ or the White House or anyone else to seek favorable treatment for anyone.
Here's the statement her office just sent out:
HARMAN CALLS ON DOJ TO RELEASE ALL MATERIALS RELATED TO POSSIBLE WIRETAPPED CONVERSATIONS
~ Says "It is my intention to make this material available to the public" ~
Washington, DC - Following below is a copy of a letter Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA) sent to Attorney General Eric Holder today:
April 21, 2009
Dear General Holder:
I am outraged to learn from reports leaked to the media over the last several days that the FBI or NSA secretly wiretapped my conversations in 2005 or 2006 while I was Ranking Member on the House Intelligence Committee.
This abuse of power is outrageous and I call on your Department to release all transcripts and other investigative material involving me in an unredacted form. It is my intention to make this material available to the public.
I also urge you to take appropriate steps to investigate possible wiretapping of other Members of Congress and selective leaks of investigative material which can be used for political purposes. As you know, it is entirely appropriate to converse with advocacy organizations and constituent groups, and I am concerned about a chilling effect on other elected officials who may find themselves in my situation.
Let me be absolutely clear: I never contacted the Department of Justice, the White House or anyone else to seek favorable treatment regarding the national security cases on which I was briefed, or any other cases. You may be aware that David Szady, the FBI's former top counterintelligence official, is quoted in the media saying of me "...in all my dealings with her, she was always professional and never tried to intervene or get in the way of any investigation."
Relying on an International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission translation of a recent Al Arabiya story, the blog Towleroad reports that Iraqi militias have been engaging in some particularly brutal tactics toward gay men in Iraq:
"A prominent Iraqi human rights activist says that Iraqi militia have deployed a painful form of torture against homosexuals by closing their anuses using 'Iranian gum.' ...Yina Mohammad told Alarabiya.net that, 'Iraqi militias have deployed an unprecedented form of torture against homosexuals by using a very strong glue that will close their anus.' According to her, the new substance 'is known as the American hum, which is an Iranian-manufactured glue that if applied to the skin, sticks to it and can only be removed by surgery. After they glue the anuses of homosexuals, they give them a drink that causes diarrhea. Since the anus is closed, the diarrhea causes death. Videos of this form of torture are being distributed on mobile cellphones in Iraq.'"
The Iraqi defense ministry reported earlier this month that six gay men were shot dead in a Shia-controlled part of Baghadad. "Two of the bodies, found on Thursday, had pieces of paper attached on which was written the word 'Pervert.'" According to the source in the Al Arabiya article, "for the past 3 weeks a crackdown on homosexuals has been going on based on a religious decree that demands their death; dozens have been targeted." The persecution "is not confined to the Shiite clerics," the source said. "Some Sunni leaders have also declared the death penalty for sodomy on satellite channels."
Over at the OMB's Blog, Peter Orszag gives a warm welcome to Cass Sunstein, who's nomination as head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is now official. Over the course of his career, Sunstein has done a lot of work, some of it mildly[...]
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