Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Torture and our short memory

The New Yorker has a great piece in this week's issue on the legal maneuverings the Bush administration engaged in to make torture part of its policy with regard to prisoners taken in the "War on Terror." It's been on my mind all day, and I keep shaking my head at how completely rotten to the core one would have to be to participate in making this happen.

Salon's also got a really great interview with journalist Mark Danner that touches on how torture has become the new status quo along with badness in general. In speaking about just how hardcore this administration is, he says

They don't care about people concerned with facts. They care about the broader arc of the story. We sit here constantly citing facts -- that they've broken this or that law, that what they originally said turns out not to be true. None of this particularly interests them.

What interests them is the larger reality believed by the 50.1 percent that they need to govern. Kenneth Duberstein said this recently -- he was chief of staff to Ronald Reagan -- that this administration is unique in that they govern with 50.1 percent. He was referring not to elections but to popularity while governing. His notion was that Reagan would want to get 60 to 65 percent backing him, while the Bush people want a bare majority, which means they have a much more extremist policy because they're appealing to the base. It makes them very hard-knuckle when approaching politics, simply wanting the base plus one.

Here's another great excerpt that completely gives name to the frustrating way in which this administration's wrongdoings never seem to amount to anything:

You've talked about our current American world as one of "frozen scandal," an interesting phrase. When you first used it, we were in the Downing Street Memo scandal and nothing was happening. Now, we're immersed in the NSA and other scandals and nothing is happening.

The icebergs are floating by. I've used the phrase to indicate that a process of scandal we've come to know, with an expected series of steps, has come to an end. Before, you had, as Step 1, revelation of wrongdoing by the press, usually with the help of leaks from within an administration. Step 2 would be an investigation which the courts, often allied with Congress, would conduct, usually in public, that would give you an official version of events. We saw this with Watergate, Iran-Contra and others. And finally, Step 3 would be expiation -- the courts, Congress, impose punishment which allows society to return to some kind of state of grace in which the notion is, Look, we've corrected the wrongdoing, we can now go on. With this administration, we've got revelation of torture, of illegal eavesdropping, of domestic spying, of all kinds of abuses when it comes to arrest of domestic aliens, of inflated and false weapons of mass destruction claims before the war; of cronyism and corruption in Iraq on a vast scale. You could go on. But no official investigation follows.

You get revelation and repetition.

Yes, R and R. It's been three years since the invasion and occupation of Iraq and there's been no official investigation of how the administration made use of intelligence to suggest that the intelligence agencies were certain Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Now, the consequence of this is that we live with the knowledge of these scandals, published in newspapers, magazines, books, but we get no official acknowledgement of wrongdoing and no punishment. Perhaps in the end a handful of people will be punished...

Minor figures...

...who were silly enough to get themselves caught -- for example, the military police whose images appear in the Abu Ghraib digital pictures. The actual policymakers responsible for the change in interrogation policy will suffer no punishment whatsoever. In fact, they're still in their jobs. None of the investigations has reached them. Even the people who actually carried on the interrogations themselves we know very little about. . .

. . .When I look at the pieces on the inside pages of the papers about the stealing of funds in Iraq by American officials, when I realize that no one is likely to be punished for this, I think of the novels of [Milan] Kundera, of his vivid descriptions of what it was like to live in Eastern Europe in the 1950s and '60s -- in the Soviet system where everyone realized the corruption, the abuse of power, the mediocrity of the government, the yawning gap between what was said and what was really going on, but no one could do anything about it.


At 8:04 AM, Blogger Lars said...

interesting interview. I think in one way we've not yet grown accustomed to how ordinary torture actually has become as a tool for Western militaries. Check out the interview with "the hood from Abu Ghraib" and this Joe Sacco comic strip interview with a prisoner from the Baghdad Airport prison


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