In the course of a few short years, water-boarding has morphed from torture that unquestionably violates both federal and international law to an indispensable tool in the fight against terror.
Charting that progression is almost not worth doing anymore, so familiar are the various feints and steps. First, the administration breaks the law in secret. Then it denies breaking the law. Then it admits to the conduct but asserts that settled law is not in fact settled anymore because some lawyer was willing to unsettle it. Then the administration insists that the basis for unsettling the law is secret but that there are now two equally valid sides to the question. And then the administration gets Congress to rewrite the old law by insisting it prevents the president from thwarting terror attacks and warning that terrorists will strike tomorrow unless Congress ratifies the new law. Then it immunizes the law breakers from prosecution.
That’s how Americans have come to reconcile themselves to illegal warrantless eavesdropping and to prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay. It’s why we’re no longer bothered in the least by the abuse of national-security letters or extraordinary rendition or by presidential signing statements. Deny, admit, codify, then immunize. The law as quickstep.
More from Charles Pierce (h/t Chet Scoville), Hilzoy @ ObWi and skdadl-with-one-‘sk’, who charts the logical next step in the Left-Hand Path that has been eagerly undertaken by the Bush administration:
If torture is situational ethics, then we are on to Dostoevsky territory. Torture is an assault on the body, yes – the body may recover; it may be maimed; or it may be destroyed. But torture is aimed most profoundly at the mind, at destroying the mind, at driving the victim mad. And in that madness, what any of us will see is the vision that is the exact opposite of civilization, especially of democracy. The tortured and the torturer both know that once all the rules are conditional, there are no more rules. Civil society ends. Everything is permitted.