Some pretty bad news came out this weekend. According to Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, the administration won't prosecute anyone for torture. Not the torturers themselves and not those who planned, discussed, or authorized torture. The stand of this administration toward monstrous crimes of torture and conspiracy to commit it is "live and let live." On ABC's This Week with George Stephanopolous, Emmanuel and Stephanopolous had the following exchange:
STEPHANOPOLOUS: The President has ruled out prosecutions of CIA officials who believed they were following the law. Does he believe the officials who devised the policies should be immune from prosecution?
RAHM: Yeah, what he believes is, look, as you saw in that statement he wrote. And I think, just take a step back. That he came up with this, and he worked on this for four weeks. Wrote that statement Wednesday night, after he made his decision, and dictated what he wanted to see and then Thursday morning I saw him in the office, he was still editing it. He believes that people in good faith were operating with the guidance they were provided. They shouldn't be prosecuted.
STEPHANOPOLOUS: But what about those who devised the policies?
RAHM: But those who devised the policies -- he believes that they were -- should not be prosecuted either. And it's not the place that we go -- as he said in that letter, and I really recommend that people look at that full statement. Not the letter, the statement. In that second paragraph: This is not a time for retribution. It's a time for reflection. It is not a time to use our energy and our time in looking back, and in a sense of anger and retribution. We have a lot to do to protect America. What people need to know, this practice and technique, we don't use any more. He banned it.
We don't torture any more. That's all you need to know. Of course, when Rahm says, "It is not a time to use our energy and our time in looking back," what he really means is that now is the time to look the other way. A terrible crime has been committed in your name, in my name, in the name of every person in the United States of America, but we shouldn't get all worked up over it. We shouldn't let ourselves get bogged down in "anger and retribution," because we need to reflect and heal and grow and accept our inner torturer or some other self-help BS -- no wonder Oprah endorsed Obama. For those of us not as well-versed in the language of following our bliss, it's hard to understand what Emmanuel's saying here because it doesn't make any goddam sense at all.
I need someone to explain to me when it was exactly that justice became just "anger and retribution." When did the idea that people who commit crimes should have to answer for them become some sort of unhealthy desire for revenge? If I ever wind up in front of a judge, what do you think my odds are if I use the "forgive and forget" argument that seems to be the position of the Obama administration?
I think the technical term for what would happen to my case would be "laughed out of court." I need someone to explain why I can't use the "let bygones be bygones" defense -- ever -- but it's what every single person in the Bush administration gets by default. Hey Rahm, give me a call and clear that up for me, will you? Because I don't get it. From my vantage point, it looks like there are two systems of justice -- one for people who've worked in the White House and one for everyone else.
As blogger Jane Hamsher points out, "The United States has 5% of the world's population, but nearly 25% of its prisoners. There is something terribly inconsistent about a Senior Administration official like Rahm Emanuel insisting that an elite few should not be subject to our laws, and that people who take issue with this have no higher motive than counterproductive rage." It's an insult not only to people who want justice, it's an insult to the concept of justice itself.
As a result of the lack of even real investigations, the attitude of the punditry has become "who cares about torture?" Arguing against the release of torture memos, columnist George Will said, "The problem with transparency is that it's transparent for the terrorists as well." Peggy Noonan agreed. "Some things in life need to be mysterious," she said. "Sometimes you need to just keep walking." You know what you need to know and the more ignorant you are, the safer you are.
This doesn't strike me as a particularly American attitude. Worse, the debate over whether or not torture is a crime we should worry about has harmed our nation. The unpunished crime is a de facto non-crime. Where before the Bush administration showed up, American torture was unthinkable, today we have people arguing in favor of it. "I'm not confident that forswearing the use of these techniques is prudent," says perpetually wrong founding neocon William Kristol -- right out in the open, unashamed, to nodding approval and thoughtful expressions. It's not just a non-crime, it's a really good idea.
Without an actual consequence for this crime, this will continue long into the future. This president may not torture, but there's clearly nothing keeping any future president from doing it -- and no shortage of morons who'll go on talking head shows to applaud it.
And what's going too far? How low do we set the bar in justifying the newly-redefined non-criminal act of torture? There's evidence -- not slamdunk evidence at this point, but evidence nonetheless -- that we've tortured people as young as seven years old. Would that be a crime? If so, why? All the same justifications for adult torture still apply -- why would child torture be any different?
And -- one more rhetorical question -- do you really believe that you'd have to go far to find some right wing pundit who'd be willing to defend torturing kids? The most predominant attitude among the conservative talking heads is that the ends always justify the means. It's easy to imagine some jerk in a red tie arguing that we had to torture kids -- that's why there wasn't another 9/11.
Let me join in with the Obama administration in using the language of self-help books to make my point; Bush's torture has made our nation sick. We're wounded, maybe not emotionally, but intellectually. As long as there's any question as to whether torture is any more than "technically illegal," we'll never heal -- if the question is open, the wound is open.
We need to end the argument by applying the law. Not out of retribution or anger, but just to determine what we stand for and what we believe. We need to reaffirm our basic goodness, by recognizing and rejecting our own evil.
In self-help language, the Bush administration is our wounded inner-child. And that child needs a spanking.
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