One of the great dangers of the Bush administration is that it will permanently alter our sense of what is possible or acceptable. You can see an analog of this when people say things like: Bush won’t be able to do X, or: he will have to do Y, where these statements do not refer to physical necessity or impossibility. (E.g., if memory serves, when the surge began, some Republicans said: if it doesn’t work, Bush will have to withdraw.) The sense in which people who say such things think that Bush “has to” or “can’t” do something or other is just that there are certain things we do not believe that any President would do, and others we think he must do. There are lines we assume he would never cross.
But this administration does not recognize the existence of any such lines. They do not “have to” withdraw just because none of their plans have worked, the army is breaking, and the war has next to no popular support. They would “have to” withdraw only if someone put a gun to their collective heads and forced them to. They do not “have to” obey the law or the Constitution: they will only if they are literally compelled to. Likewise, they do not “have to” respect even the most basic principles of decency and humanity, even when obligated to do so by US law and treaties we have signed, which are, according to the Constitution, the law of the land. Neither moral suasion nor legal obligation seem to matter to them. The only sense in which they “have to” do anything is the sense involving physical necessity.
The Bush administration threatens us with the catastrophe of losing our sense that there are things the government cannot do every time they do one of those things. I never, ever want to go along with their redefinition of what is possible, which is why I refuse to stop being outraged when something like this happens.
Related: Scott Horton on “The Torture Team”; Philippe Sands examines “how the torture at Guantánamo began, and how it spread”; Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris profile Sabrina Harman, “[t]he woman behind the camera at Abu Ghraib”; Jeremy Waldon reviews Cass Sunstein’s Worst Case Scenarios; and David Bromwich looks at “Euphemism and American Violence”.