Why we are not angry

So, there will be a special investigation into the torture of detainees during the past administration. Ducky. Just ducky.

For starters, I share Glenn Greenwald's skepticism about the limited scope of the investigation. If the Justice Department officials and others in the administration who were responsible for the policy of detainee torture are given immunity, then the investigation will fail to achieve a just end. While it passes obvious that those who did the actual torturing in "bad faith" (whatever the hell that is) deserve to be investigated and prosecuted, so do Yoo and Bybee and Cheney. (And yes, that includes any Democrats who were complicit.)

Further, I concur with Will over at Ordinary Gents that the degradation to our national character that resulted from the torture of prisoners was, even by coldest utilitarian calculus, not worth it.

So, why does the anger over all of this seem so limited? Why does there not seem to be much national shame?

Because, at the end of the day, I think Americans are not particularly bothered by the torture of terrorism suspects. First of all, the presumption of innocence goes right out the window when we feel unsafe, and when the people who are being held have distressingly foreign-sounding names, and come from places of which we are only barely aware. I wonder if it occurs to most Americans that often we might simply have captured and tortured the wrong people, people who may have known little or nothing of value.

Once one paints all the detainees with the brush of guilt, it's a short step to accepting their torture. They have it coming, after all. They positively deserve it as an end unto itself, and any data extracted is gravy. The wholesale destruction of American moral authority, and the corrosion of our national identity as a virtuous nation is lost in the brilliant heat of our vengeance, and drowned by the pleasure we feel when we hurt the people we believe have hurt us.

Why are Americans not more exercised by the torture of the detainees? Because, at the end of the day, they were probably glad it happened.


  1. The general rule of thumb is, if Glenn Greenwald is in favor of it, look three times before joining on. Four wouldn't be excessive. Five might be prudent.

    I have yet to be convinced that the CIA is completely incompetent and wastes valuable interrogation time on prisoners who haven't been linked to valuable info, or worse, that the CIA tortures just for the hell of it (like the countries we use in the continuing rendition programs). If the CIA determines that prisoner A is very likely to have knowledge that would save lives, and I mean something more than a hunch, I don't really have a problem with hooking A up to the DieHards, if that is what it takes. Higher-ups better sign off on it, and the reasons need to be good, but at the end of the day, we must be willing to defend the innocent. Marquis of Queensbury rules are not appropriate for fights when only one side plays by the rules.

    AG Holder better have something here, because these cases have been looked over by career prosecutors, not Bush flunkies, and not taken to court years ago. If he doesn't, and he may not, then the Obama Admin will pay dearly in the court of public judgement. I am required by truth in commenting regulations to say nothing is as satisfying to see as some karmic payback in a nasty fight between the CIA culture of leaks and the progressive culture of moral arrogance and superiority.

    Having said that, if there really are provable abuses, they should be prosecuted, and not limited in scope to the bottom of the food chain. I await the evidence.

  2. You and I have a categorical difference of opinion on this issue. We will not, I fear, come to an agreement.

  3. Yes, and I can respect that you have principled opposition to enhanced interrogation techniques. I trust you respect my principled support of EITs.

    I would ask, are you prepared to sacrifice the life of your new child for your principles? If you are, we will indeed never come to agreement. I am not prepared to sacrifice my children or my neighbor's children or your child so that evil men are treated with kid gloves. My understanding of morality rejects that option without apology.

  4. Can you imagine the utter and unmitigated hypocrisy .....Vice President Dick Cheney accused the Obama White House of politicizing the Justice Department and insisted that a new report on interrogation policies by the CIA proved the efficacy of torture. Truly a Lewis Carroll view. The same Bushies in the Justice Department, not career Federal Employees but those with Liberty University Law Degrees reviewed everything and found ..... nothing.

  5. That's a totally loaded question, John. If I personally knew, with absolute certainty, that it was necessary for the survival of my child, or any loved one, then I would almost certainly run over the terrorist in question with a backhoe. And then, in all likelihood, I would face prosecution and be forced to make my case to a jury.

    It is the same in this case. If there is an incontrovertible case to be made that the torture in question was necessary for the safety of an indefinite number of American citizens, then the people who did the torturing will be vindicated. If, rather, it was a vengeance-fueled fishing expedition, then the people responsible for crafting the policies that provided cover should be prosecuted.

    Torture should always be illegal, and the people who allowed it to happen should always be made to account for doing so. Juries exist to weigh the case, and pardons exist if the POTUS believes the circumstances dictate.

    If we do not believe in those ideals, then we are no better than some tin-pot dictatorship.

  6. Dan, I can absolutely agree that the barriers to use of coercive interrogation ought to be high, and I absolutely agree that "vengence fueled fishing expeditions" should lead to prosecution. On that, we agree. So I guess we'll see what this second bite at the apple produces.

    OTOH, as you mention, normal people aren't very excited about this. We see physical violence all the time in movies -- good guys beating, shooting, threatening death to the bad guys -- and the audience not only accepts it but cheers. If these actions were always morally repugnant **in themselves**, there is no way the screenwriters would have the hero commit such acts. But context is everything. As Jonah Goldberg says, think of this as elaborate hypothetical situations in the debate about torture and interrogation that are acted out and played before focus groups of normal Americans.