Torture And The Village

by dday

I have a ridiculously long post on torture and some of the revelations we've seen this week, in the Jane Mayer book, the Omar Khadr tape, etc. But I wanted to reiterate one part of it here, because it's indicative of the fundamental rot at the heart of the American system these days, and why we'll forever be diminished until we cut the rot away.

No matter how many times John Yoo and David Addington try to rewrite the plain reading of the Constitution, what has been done in America's name violates federal law, international treaties and war crimes statutes. In a just world, as Jerrold Nadler said yesterday, Bush and Cheney would be impeached. But this goes well beyond removal from office. This is about indictment for murder and war crimes, by definition. In case you were wondering, however, here is the official Village pronouncement about what we should do with the fact that our leaders, in a complete breakdown of the rule of law, have tortured, detained without charges, and murdered:

Dark deeds have been conducted in the name of the United States government in recent years: the gruesome, late-night circus at Abu Ghraib, the beating to death of captives in Afghanistan, and the officially sanctioned waterboarding and brutalization of high-value Qaeda prisoners. Now demands are growing for senior administration officials to be held accountable and punished. Congressional liberals, human-rights groups and other activists are urging a criminal investigation into high-level “war crimes,” including the Bush administration’s approval of interrogation methods considered by many to be torture.

It’s a bad idea. In fact, President George W. Bush ought to pardon any official from cabinet secretary on down who might plausibly face prosecution for interrogation methods approved by administration lawyers.

That's right. Just shut it down. Those mean old hippies are just too worked up about all of this stuff. We need to just move on and heal the nation's partisan wounds and forget about all this "accountability" nonsense.

This "Truth Commission" thing is taking hold throughout the Village, and I understand the impulse to an extent. Truth Commissions of this type were very successful in South Africa and Rwanda, and went a long way to healing those nations. But there was a universal acknowledgment on the part of the entire nation that those being investigated, be it the pro-apartheid forces in South Africa or the genocidists in Rwanda, were guilty. It's not like the parties who would be pardoned in exchange for their testimony have even acknowledged any wrongdoing. They're still asserting unitary executive powers, and they're still winning battles in the courts, so why would you instinctively want to pardon people who believe they've done nothing wrong?

President Bush has the legal power to order the indefinite military detentions of civilians captured in the United States, the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled on Tuesday in a fractured 5-to-4 decision.

The same court ruled that this prisoner has the right to an additional habeas hearing, and additional habeas hearings have been ordered by other judges. But read that above sentence. Indefinite military detentions of civilians captured inside the United States. Why would anyone submit to a Truth Commission when they're winning?

Of course, the real reason I can't abide by a Truth Commission any more, not after the slow drip of illegalities over the last few years, is because of the following aspect of the Village mindset. Bradrocket says it best:

"A criminal investigation would only hinder efforts to determine the truth, and preclude any apologies. It would spur those who know the most to take the Fifth. Any prosecutions would also touch off years of partisan warfare."

And this, my friends, is the absolute nightmare of the Village Mindset: years of partisan warfare. Why do evil people like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney feel they can simply break the law with reckless abandon? Because they know that modern American political culture simply does not believe in accountability for its political class. They know that in the end, they’re part of the same Villager club of Special People who are too powerful and too privileged to ever face any consequences for their actions. Prosecute government officials for state-sanctioned torture?? How uncouth!

And that's the racket in Washington. Accountability is just a word people throw around. As Glenn Greenwald puts it:

This is what a country becomes when it decides that it will not live under the rule of law, when it communicates to its political leaders that they are free to do whatever they want -- including breaking our laws -- and there will be no consequences. There are two choices and only two choices for every country -- live under the rule of law or live under the rule of men. We've collectively decided that our most powerful political leaders are not bound by our laws -- that when they break the law, there will be no consequences. We've thus become a country which lives under the proverbial "rule of men" -- that is literally true, with no hyperbole needed -- and Mayer's revelations are nothing more than the inevitable by-product of that choice [...]

If the rule of law doesn't constrain the actions of government officials, then nothing will. Continuous revelations of serious government lawbreaking have led not to investigations or punishment but to retroactive immunity and concealment of the crimes. Judicial findings of illegal government behavior have led to Congressional action to protect the lawbreakers. The Detainee Treatment Act. The Military Commissions Act. The Protect America Act. The FISA Amendments Act. They're all rooted in the same premise: that our highest government leaders have the power to ignore our laws with impunity, and when they're caught, they should be immunized and protected, not punished.

And the right banks on this, by the way. At yesterday's torture hearing with the Stupidest Fucking Guy On The Planet, Doug Feith, Republicans repeatedly brought up the fact that Nancy Pelosi, among other Democrats, were "fully briefed" on the program in secret. Whether or not those briefings were full is questionable, but clearly the very point was to implicate Democrats so that they could never speak out or risk their own prosecution. And Democrats obliged with little resistance. Practically no effort was made on the part of the "Gang of Eight" to stop this madness. Darrell Issa and all the little torture addicts were sure to bring up Pelosi's name over and over again. They know they have their opponents over a barrel.

There are heroes in this. CREW has labeled 30 of them in a report about "Those Who Dared" to stand up for our country and its ideals. But their courage is tarnished by a Village culture that is self-protective and contemptuous of the rule of law. When the powerful can absolve themselves of blame and the media courtiers serve to defend them, a sense of anarchy and lawlessness sets in. Whether the impulse to immunize is because leaders of both parties are implicated, or just out of a sense of comity, our Establishment wants to pardon themselves by vowing never to bring up the word "indictment" in polite company, so they can all whistle and laugh at Washington cocktail parties at the end of empire.

This comic says it all. And for some reason, Tom Friedman wonders why this country is hated around the world.