Sunday, April 26, 2009

Quotes Worth Reading: Torture Edition

I just watched a You Tube video in which Pat Buchanon, who was debating with Jonathan Turley and Chris Matthews about whether prosecution of Bush administration officials was warranted, made this astounding statement in support of his position that torture, although against the law, was nonetheless proper:

"There's a higher moral law here, that's what Dr. King was all about."

After that, it's refreshing to read Frank Rich's perspective on this issue in the New York Times this morning:

Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.
. . .
President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Another seemingly similar quote came from Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, who, when appearing on Countdown last week to discuss whether officials should be prosecuted for sanctioning torture, called out Dick Cheney:

And what's so fascinating is that Dick Cheney stands almost alone. You don't see former president Bush out there pursuing this. You don't see Condi Rice or Domn Rumsfeld or others. It's the former vice president who is becoming a forlorn and I think soon to be further disgraced figure.

As Digby pointed out, however, Jonathan forgot what he was saying back in 2001 when he wrote:

In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts turning to... torture. OK, not cattle prods or rubber hoses, at least not here in the United States, but something to jump-start the stalled investigation of the greatest crime in American history. Right now, four key hijacking suspects aren't talking at all.

Couldn't we at least subject them to psychological torture, like tapes of dying rabbits or high-decibel rap? (The military has done that in Panama and elsewhere.) How about truth serum, administered with a mandatory IV? Or deportation to Saudi Arabia, land of beheadings? (As the frustrated FBI has been threatening.) Some people still argue that we needn't rethink any of our old assumptions about law enforcement, but they're hopelessly "Sept. 10"--living in a country that no longer exists.

So from media hypocrisy to media courage, we go to my second favorite quote of the week, from, of all places, Fox News. Shepard Smith said, during a debate with Judith Miller (yeah, that Judy Miller):

"We are America, we don't torture! And the moment that is not the case, I want off the train! This government is of, by, and for the people -- that means it's mine....
"They better not do it," he said. "If we are going to be Ronald Reagan's Shining City on the Hill, we don't get to torture. We don't do it."

Will he keep his job? If they were looking for a reason to fire him after that statement, he gave them one shortly thereafter when he spoke out during Fox News online show, The Strategy Room. After the debate was framed in terms of whether torture works, Shep had had enough and said:

"We are America!" he shouted, slamming his hand on the table. "I don't give a rat's ass if it helps. We are AMERICA! We do not fucking torture!!"

The worst quote of the week, and the one that criminal defense lawyers should consider quoting from at sentencing, comes from the WaPo's David Broder, who said, when writing of the call for prosecuting torture enablers:

But now Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more -- the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past. They are looking for individual scalps -- or, at least, careers and reputations.

Their argument is that without identifying and punishing the perpetrators, there can be no accountability -- and therefore no deterrent lesson for future administrations. It is a plausible-sounding rationale, but it cloaks an unworthy desire for vengeance.

As the Monty Python character once remarked, "This is supposed to be a happy occasion! Let's not bicker and argue about who killed [tortured?] who."

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