The president took his decision under the pressure of time. Had he not acted, the 44 photos would have been released next week as per an order from a New York court. It was a decision the White House had originally approved. But the timing of the release would have been problematic — the images of rape and torture would have conflicted with Obama’s travel plans. On June 4, Obama plans to give a keynote address in Cairo in which he intends to unveil a plan of reconciliation with the Muslim world. The legacy of the Bush era includes an us-versus-them mentality from which Obama seeks to distance himself, and which he has already begun to reverse.
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”.
RADDATZ: …ABC News reported this week that your senior national security officials all got together and approved — including Vice President Cheney — all got together and approved enhanced interrogation methods, including waterboarding, for detainees.
BUSH: You mean back in 2003?
RADDATZ: Are you aware of that? Are you aware of that?
BUSH: Was I aware that we were going to use enhanced…
RADDATZ: That they all met together?
BUSH: Of course. They meet together all the time on…
RADDATZ: And approved that?
BUSH: … a variety of issues.
RADDATZ: And approved that?
RADDATZ: You have no problem with that?
BUSH: In 2003?
BUSH: No. I mean, as a matter of fact, I told the country we did that. And I also told them it was legal. We had legal opinions that enabled us to do it. And, no, I didn’t have any problem at all trying to find out what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed knew.
BUSH: And guess what? I think it’s very important for the American people to understand who Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was. He was the person who ordered the suicide attack — I mean, the 9/11 attacks. And back then, there was all kinds of concerns about people saying, “Well, the administration is not connecting the dots.” You might remember those — that period.
RADDATZ: I remember.
BUSH: Well, we started to connect the dots, in order to protect the American people. And, yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved. I don’t know what’s new about that; I’m not so sure what’s so startling about that.
This pattern has recurred over and over throughout the Bush Administration. Bush and his minions commit crimes and atrocities in secret; they move heaven and earth to conceal their filthy deeds; they squirm and squeal like panicked rats when their some small portion of their evil comes to light; they belch forth a relentless series of self-contradictory lies to cover up, obfuscate or explain away the crimes; and when at last their malefactions can no longer be denied, they trot out the president himself to say: “Yeah, we did it; so what?” And then….nothing happens.
And now nothing is happening again. It is an astounding phenomenon. Bush is the most widely despised president in modern times. The war he launched on false pretenses against Iraq is deeply unpopular, and is plainly bankrupting the country. His economic policies have plunged millions into ruin, want and insecurity. The opposition political party controls the Congress — a bastion they could have used as a bully pulpit to rally the public and as a battering ram to bring down an openly criminal, shamelessly unconstitutional, dangerous, illegitimate regime. And yet….nothing happens.
One final point. As horrifying as this latest news is, I’d like to remind you that we don’t know the half of it. The fact that Bush felt comfortable confirming his own approval of White House torture planning indicates that far more dreadful moral outrages were planned and committed by these bastards. And that those horrors are official United States policy.
This is not some puerile propaganda-disguised-as-entertainment like ’24,’ dear friends, where the guns fire blanks and the blood is ketchup. This is the real thing. People are being tortured with your tax dollars. And let us not forget that there are no “utilitarian” excuses that trump this immorality. “Our” goals are not intrinsically benign and therefore justify these obscenities. Torture has not saved a single American life.
Should Bush, et al immediately be impeached and removed from office for these and other heinous activities? Should he and the others stand trial? Of course they should, it goes without saying. It is a measure of how far removed we are from a representative democracy that, politically, it is simply inconceivable that the top level of planners will ever encounter justice.
When that feeling stirs in our guts, that creeping sense that something isn’t right, we must listen to our intuition. We cannot keep our heads down, hold our breath, and wait for it all to be over.
We must not give up on our right and our responsibility to vote, but voting alone will not solve the problems we face. Those of us who can look beyond our next chance to trek to the voting booth must find other ways of making our voices heard in the interim. When Ukraine’s government attempted to undermine their democratic principles, there was rioting in the streets. When will we riot in the streets? I wonder, anxiously, what it will take to shake us from our immutable belief that democracy will solve the problem of its own inevitable ruination so long as we depend exclusively on its fading potency.
Citizens of a democracy, we are taught, address their concerns and protest bad administrations and their dire policies on election days. We are polite and respectful as we register our dissent in quiet booths with drawn curtains. But maybe, just maybe, the pride we take in our civility will become our greatest shame.