Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"The Torture Question"

I watched Frontline on public television last night, Bush, with an all-too-familiar sense of shame and outrage. "The Torture Question" detailed our country's descent, under your watch, into a growing culture of abuse, arbitrary detention, and deprivation of legal rights. That all of us sat back and allowed you and your people to turn 9/11 into a permission to drag us down so far is to our lasting shame. Worse still is that we continue to sit on our hands and allow you to get away with a few show trials for those lowest (and least powerful) on the totem pole, whilst those who created and implemented the permissive policies are rewarded with your accolades and promotions. I think, Bush, particularly of your Rumsfeld, your Gonzales, and others who conspired with them to promote the right of the state over basic human rights. I think of your military brass--including especially your Gen. Jeff Miller--who demanded that those under their command should "take the gloves off" when dealing with detainees, in the interest of extracting what your people call, in their dreadful jargon, "actionable intelligence."

What the program made clear was that the prisoner abuse that has vilified this country's reputation was not the result of the misguided enthusiasm of "a few bad apples," as you and your Rumsfeld would have a gullible American public believe. It was a considered and carefully implemented policy, legally prepared and argued, and implemented from the top down. It catered, perhaps, to the baser instincts of those at the bottom of the ladder. But it is shameful to allow them to take all the blame for actions they clearly considered authorized by higher-ups.

Sadly, it's not only the morality of these tactics that are questionable: it's also their efficacy. For all the bullying and systematic abuse, it seems that the return in terms of reliable intelligence was minimal. Men were abused by American interrogators even when they were in no position to possess the information that was being sought from them. The cellular structure of Al Qaeda is famously such that few are knowledgable about critical information. And torture, as I hear it, leads men all too often to come up with false or misleading information, simply to put an end to the pain and humiliation. Besides, it is naive to assume that these smart enemies are not well trained in responding to coercive interrogation techniques.

What leaves me, finally, so outraged, is that there seems to be no justice and no prospect of justice--and this in a country that constantly claims the moral high ground. The whole thing has been neatly swept under the rug. But if we allow not only the perpetrators but the facilitators of such acts to go unpunished, are we any better than those we claim to be our enemies? It seems so clear that all this emanted from the office of your Rumsfeld, Bush. And yet not only did you refuse to accept his resignation when it was offered, you praised the man publically for doing "a superb job." What are the rest of us to think, except that you yourself approve his ruthless methods, his unwavering patrician assumption of the rightness of his actions, and his deflection of responsibility for them onto the lowliest of his minions?

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