We Elected a Reformer, Not an Avenger…a different take on torture
Update: The thread devolved into rants on the part of some instead of making a point. Such writing dimishes whatever your position happened to be.
Post from The Bell hat tip run75441
We Elected a Reformer, Not an Avenger.
Then Josiah the king sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. Josiah went up into the house of the Lord . . . and he read in their ears all the words of the Book of the Law that was found in the house of the Lord. Josiah stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord to walk after the Law and to keep its commandments and its testimonies and its statutes with all his heart and with all his soul . . . and he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Judah to [do the same].
~ Chronicles II, 34:30-33.
Last week, President Obama released several previously classified CIA memos issued during the former Bush Administration, justifying and sanctioning the use of “interrogation with enhanced techniques” (i.e. torture).
The memos proved what many had suspected all along – the brutal treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and elsewhere was widespread and systematic. Rather than the acts of “a few bad apples,” as former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz once insisted, torture was the product of orders issued from individuals like Wolfowitz and others in the highest circles of command.
Obama has been clear he will not prosecute CIA agents and other low-level personnel who conducted interrogations, as they were simply following orders their superiors had assured them were legal. He initially expressed a similar unwillingness to indict those issuing orders, saying, “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”
Pressure from anti-war members of Congress and left wing progressive groups have caused Obama to retreat from his original position. He now says he might accept a “Truth Commission” but urged Congressional Democrats to appoint an independent prosecutor or panel rather than holding hearings themselves. He has rather vapidly decreed that “most” decisions regarding legal extradition, trial, and punishment will be left to Attorney General Eric Holder. For his part, Holder has been equally equivocal. “No one is above the law. So we’ll see what happens.”
Many liberal pundits are taking Obama to task for his reservations on this topic, insisting his vacillation is undermining the moral as well as practical objections he raised against the Iraq War and war on terrorism during the 2008 campaign.
The clamor started with Howard Fineman in the current issue of Newsweek. He is joined today by Paul Krugman in the New York Times, who asserts, “The only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how [it all] happened and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.”
Krugman continues, “For the fact is that officials in the Bush Administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract ‘confessions’ that would justify that war.”
The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson swells the chorus with his voice. “Torture is not just immoral but also illegal. This means that once we learn the whole truth, the law will oblige us to act on it.”
Only Roger Cohen, writing a few days earlier in the New York Times, is inclined to sway toward mercy over justice.
“I’m wary of the clamor for retribution. Congress failed. The press failed. The judiciary failed. With almost three thousand dead, America’s checks and balances got skewed, from the Capitol to Wall Street. Scrutiny gave way to acquiescence . . . Those checks and balances are recovering now. I don’t think recovery would be served by prosecutions . . . The right balance between retribution and reconciliation is always hard to find in the aftermath of national trauma . . . There’s work to do. Obama’s right – America should look ahead, not back.”
There are probably many reasons why Obama does not wish pursue those who authorized torture, despite the seriousness of the charges. It is certainly clear why he favors an independent commission over Congressional hearings. Even Obama is beyond counting on lessened GOP opposition as a reward for his largesse. However, he cannot afford for his supporters to be distracted from pursuing his aggressive agenda as they chase after their conservative counterparts.
What is more, a thorough investigation is liable to implicate far too many Democrats along with the usual gang of Republican suspects.
For example, among those briefed by the CIA in 2002 about the decision to use waterboarding and other coercive interrogation techniques were ranking Republican and Democratic members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.
The ranking House Democrat was Representative Nancy Pelosi of California. She remembers receiving assurances such practices were legal but not that U.S. interrogators were actually going to use them. The ranking Senate Democrat, Senator Bob Graham of Florida, denies receiving any kind of briefing.
The ranking House Republican, Representative Porter J. Goss of Florida, remembers things a little differently. “We were briefed, and we certainly understood what CIA was doing,” he said in an interview. “Not only was there no objection, there was actually concern about whether the agency was doing enough.”
Obama may also realize that as justifiably outraged as some liberals may be over torture, other Americans not only continue to defend it use but regard the termination of such practices with equally sincere outrage.
“By inviting the prosecution of Bush officials for their anti-terror legal advice, President Obama has injected a poison into our politics that he and the country will live to regret,” fumed the Wall Street Journal’s lead editorial on Wednesday. “Until now, the U.S. political system has avoided the spectacle of a new Administration prosecuting its predecessor for policy disagreements.”
Representative Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the current ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, goes so far as to question which side of this argument is truly guilty of the worst crimes. “Perhaps we need an investigation not of the enhanced interrogation program but of what the Obama Administration may be doing to endanger the security our nation has enjoyed because of interrogations and other antiterrorism measures implemented since Sept. 12, 2001.”
Then again, perhaps Obama is following the example of the Biblical king Josiah in this matter. Josiah was king of Judah from 641–604 BC. The once powerful nation of Israel had fallen from the greatness of David and Solomon, splitting into a northern and Josiah’s southern kingdom long ago.
His subject’s worship of idolatry distressed Josiah. He ordered such statues destroyed and their shrines torn down. He also raised money and ordered the great temple at Jerusalem cleaned and restored. During the restoration, a scribe found a long-forgotten writing, which some scholar hold to have been Deuteronomy, one of the Old Testament’s five core books of Mosaic Law.
When Josiah read the book, he became even more distressed and “rent his robes” when he realized how far his people had fallen from the Law. A prophet told Josiah that Jerusalem would pay for its crimes but his honesty and humility had earned him dispensation.
Josiah’s next acts are those chronicled in the quote at the top of this post. He had the lost Book of Law read aloud so everyone could hear it. Then he vowed to adhere to it and urged his subjects to follow his example. He drove out and/or killed the idolatrous priests and some of the worst “abominations” but he conducted no pogroms or purges against Jews who might have strayed.
Josiah was essentially a reformer, not an avenger. Perhaps he felt no small amount of guilt that much of the idolatry had built up in Judah over the preceding reigns of his father and grandfather. Perhaps he simply came to realize the same insight as Aldous Huxley some twenty centuries later.
“The people who make wars, the people who reduce their fellows to slavery, the people who kill and torture and tell lies in the name of their sacred causes, the really evil people in a word – these are never the publicans and the sinners. No, they’re the virtuous, respectable men, who have the finest feelings, the best brains, the noblest ideals.”
The Bush officials most responsible for the reprehensible practice of torture are no less the descendants of the Founding Fathers than ourselves. Like so many things regarding the Iraq War, they lied to us only after first lying to themselves so completely that they came to believe their lies as the truth. By selectively listening to some and eschewing critical thinking altogether, they created a worldview in which torture by the United States was legally and ethically necessary.
Obama, like Josiah, is a reformer. Releasing those CIA memos were a first step, akin to reading the Book of Law aloud in the temple. Further steps may be justified to place the full story before the public but it is a cautionary tale for all. Some high-ranking priests and those guilty of the worst abominations may well need to pay a price but this should not be our paramount concern.
As Roger Cohen observes, “A facile search for scapegoats . . . would allow too many to disregard their own small measure of responsibility.” Even Paul Krugman admits, “During the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.”
Our nation’s deviation from the Law over the past eight years was too big and too appalling to think a few trials and convictions can fix it, no matter how much pleasure we might receive watching the likes of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, and even former President Bush twisting in the wind. This crew deserves little mercy but history is already descending and judging them as too small – both as lawbreakers and as leaders – to be worth too much more of our valuable time and energy.
Instead, we should seek to clean up the mess and repair what had fallen down from neglect. Obama has begun this process as well by definitively banning torture in the future via executive order. Obama is no messiah, so let us stop moping over his lack of flaming sword. We elected a reformer, not an avenger – time to follow him and bind wounds rather than slashing new ones.