Tuesday, May 5

Okay, But What If The Only Way To Make Terror Suspects Talk Turns Out To Be A Hummer From A White House Intern?

Jacob Weisberg, "All The President's Accomplices: How the country acquiesced to Bush's torture policy". May 2

Michael Kinsey, "Where the Buck Stops". May 1

JON Stewart, to Cliff May, last week's featured torture apologist: "Why can't they say 'We were scared'?"

I thought it was pretty sad--Please, oh please, Mr. Torture Apologist, won't you love pretty flowers, too, so we can be friends again?--but at the time I wasn't aware we were desperately searching for some new sort of jurisprudence that puts juries on trial first.

I don't live in New York. I don't actually live anywhere an invader would be interested in conquering, at least not directly, and a savvy one--i.e., one smart enough to have an entire plan of action designed ahead of time, and not wait for a few deadenders to fire up an insurgency--would realize early in the planning stages that a state government which has demonstrated time and again it can be bought off by pig farmers, beer distributors, and fireworks retailers cannot possibly be worth wasting actual ordnance on. A necklace made of shiny bullets would likely do the trick.

(And, okay, maybe it's just me, and maybe this required a certain number of miles on the odometer, but a couple decades ago thousands of Americans sent themselves to hospitals after receiving free samples of Sunlight Dishwashing Liquid, which, because of the pretty pretty lemon on the bottle they added to their iced teas and drank up, resulting in the largest mass outbreak of diarrhea not linked to Taco Bell in this nation's history. If you seriously wanted to bring this country to its knees, rather than just impressing the hell out of heavenly virgins, a manufacturing license and a decent-sized mailing list would beat the hell out of a squadron of 747s. Good Lord, if the old Soviet Union had simply been poised to take advantage of Janet Jackson's nipple slip we'd all be driving Zaporozhets now. Not that that wouldn't necessarily be an improvement.)

I didn't begrudge anyone his fears then (though plenty begrudged me mine, which concerned what sort of monster those monsters had released, and not if I'd be caught at Lowe's when SPECTRE hit the local mall). And, again unlike what generally travels down the pike in return, I'm willing to exclude hindsight, although the only thing about the Global War On Somebody To Exact Revenge On I didn't see the basic outline of--and this requires no psychic powers or lucky Leftist guessing, just a reasonably broad perspective on US foreign involvement since 1946--was how utterly incompetent the Bush administration could be in pursuing it.

So let's accept for the sake of argument that the truth of "After 9/11 may Americans were scared shitless" does not require the wholly permissible addition of "by professional chatterers, lapel-pin manufacturers, permanent-warfare buffs, mass-market 'news', and, especially, the Bush administration and the Republican party generally". I'm not sure how this comes to be regarded as a Lifetime Pass. "I was scared" is a legal defense in some instances, but not a Get Out of Jail Free card. There's a reckoning due even under the best of circumstances, and the era of 9/11 Changing Everything was rarely that. The threat was made out to be exponentially larger than anything short of complete derangement would have accepted, and this was used to justify short-sighted tactics which made things much, much worse. There's a reckoning due. It would have been best had it come once reality began to reassert itself, but no regular observer of human beings could imagine that was likely.

That reckoning wasn't going to come from the Bush administration, and, as it turned out, it wasn't going to come through empowering Congressional Democrats; it certainly wasn't going to come via acknowledgment of large-scale street protests of the Iraq War. It wasn't going to come in bunting-wrapped newscasts. To suggest, now, that the lack of some sort of official reaction or recognition of public oppositon then dooms us all to Eternal Unindicted Accomplicehood is to announce the News Script has acquired the patina of Holy Writ. It's vile. It's galling. It's what these people do, over and over. Kinsley:
Indignation comes cheap in our political culture. Polls give the impression that the proper role of voters is to sit like a king passing judgment on the issues as they pass by like dishes prepared for a feast. "No, I'm not in the mood for waterboarding today, thanks. But I think I'll have another dab of those delicious-looking executive-pay caps." Prosecuting a few former government officials for their role in putting our country into the torture business would not serve justice or historical memory. It would just let the real culprits off the hook.

To which we can only reply, "Th' fuck it would." Y'know, while all this was going on the national "news" outlets were falling all over themselves to atone for the treasonous reporting of facts they permitted to slip out during the Vietnam War. Americans were not only being told, repeatedly, that "We don't torture", they weren't about to hear any different when it actually counted. What did the pictures from Abu Ghraib--they ones we did get to see--do to public confidence in how our Great Freedom Mission was being conducted? What would an actual demonstration of what waterboarding really is have done? And if there's a network news executive somewhere brave enough to have put that on the air in 2003 I'd like you to introduce me to him. Was he hiding under the desk with Keith Olbermann, ripping and reading Pentagon-approved copy? Sure, there were brave souls, real journalists, out there covering the actual story, though none at Slate, as I recall. And God bless 'em. But this is the old "Story on Page One, retraction on Page Seventeen" tale. And y'know, Mike, we both grew up during Vietnam, so I'm sure you're as aware as I am that plenty of Americans would just as soon sweep this sort of thing under the rug the moment it becomes inconvenient (a sizable chunk of those would prefer to celebrate it, as they're doing now). That's the opposite of truth. Fer chrissakes, what does it take to get people to begin to realize this attitude always leads to disaster? I mean, how many more disasters?

Of course this is not so much an argument as it is a professional courtesy and a bit of special pleading: holding bad actors accountable, unless they're caught fucking the help, claiming to have written Love Story, or Windsurfing Without Proper Equipment would empty press rooms around the country quicker'n the internets have. And clam up unnamed sources, and dry up open bars into the bargain.

And, of course, that's just for the sake of argument. The fact is the Bush administration fanned those fears at every opportunity, with its characteristic regard for accuracy. The mayor of New York at the time, Rudy Somebody, purposefully kept the casualty toll over six thousand for weeks after he'd been told every last name on the list was duplicated. He kicked and screamed again when the official count threatened to dip below 3000. What public demand did that address? Giuliani didn't get re-elected, or even re-upped for the duration of our pants pissing. Can we throw him in the slam?

The fact is these people are supposed to react coolly and rationally. Especially in such times. The public is free to panic, or overreact, or watch Howie Mandel.

[Weisberg's just more of the same, but this paragraph still manages to explain things well beyond words, as well as make the practiced Googlenaut begin to consider just how much prison space we could scare up if we let all the drug offenders go:
The justification of torture was in the air soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. Time bombs began ticking on 24 in November 2001. That same month, my colleague Jonathan Alter wrote in a Newsweek column (which he has since regretted) that we should be open to the idea of "transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies." Alan Dershowitz argued for legitimizing torture through a system of judicial warrants. "It is wise for American interrogators to employ whatever coercive methods work," Mark Bowden wrote a couple of years later in the Atlantic, referring specifically to the treatment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And that's what liberals said.

His emphasis on liberals. My emphasis on who qualifies. Some universes can be bound in a nutshell.]

The public is an Ass. What else is new? It's never justified giving everyone with a functioning intellect head wounds just to even things out. It's a big country. Plenty of room for mass atonement ceremonies during Cheney's treason trial.


Jordan said...

We think differently, but don't mean I can't give you Linkage!

guitarist manqué said...

I love the phrase 'Cheney's treason trial'. I want to hear it again and again.

Joyful Alternative said...

It was those yet-unsolved anthrax attacks that debilitated morale worse than 9/11, 9/11, 9/11!

Still, I knew enough about the Middle East to know that Saddam could not possibly be allied with al Qaida. And I knew enough about torture to know true information isn't obtained from it. Etc. So why are all the high-paid insiders so ignorant?

David said...

I'm reading your stuff, and it's good. Please keep writing. I just don't have anything to add.


stogieUSMC said...

...a state government which has demonstrated time and again it can be bought off by pig farmers...I dunno, Riley. Pig farmers can be some seriously scary dudes.

Shay said...

"So why are all the high-paid insiders so ignorant?"

Joyful, to a guy with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.