Friday, April 17, 2009

How democracy dies, Chapter 423

We can't forget: Jeb Bush is waiting his turn to continue what Dick Cheney started

The editors of the Washington Post weighed in on the latest torture revelations, in an editorial of 04/17/09, called Dealing With a Disgrace. It illustrates the prevailing attitude of the Beltway Village: obsequious toward power, especially Republican power; timid even when pretending to be outraged (at least when the outrage is directed toward Republicans); smugly cynical; contemptuous of the Constitution and the rule of law; and, horrified at the thought that respectable government officials would be held criminally responsible for torture.

Let's start with the title of their editorial. It refers to a "disgrace", not to "torture", "crimes" or "war crimes". I'll give them credit for finally, in the last of five paragraphs they finally refer to "the circumstances that gave rise to torture", which at least acknowledges that some kind of torture occurred. But it's not entirely clear from their careful weasel-wording that they actually recognized that the government of Dick Cheney and his assistant George Bush authorized torture and actually tortured people. Because the immediately following sentence is, "the so-called torture memos are released is that common sense and established legal doctrine were often contorted to justify abhorrent techniques" (my emphasis). Maybe they think it was only some other entities than the United States government under Dick Cheney that actually succumbed to "the circumstances that gave rise to torture".


This kind of mealy-mouthed cowardice is what gave us Judith Miller and the Iraq War, Bob Woodward's hagiography of Bush the Great War Leader, and the outing of Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA officer with the connivance of leading press institutions in what they knew to be the commission of a serious crime by senior government officials acting on the most venal political motives.

The first two paragraphs tell a big story - about the Washington Post:

THE OBAMA administration acted courageously and wisely yesterday with its dual actions on interrogation policy. The pair of decisions -- one essentially forgiving government agents who may have committed heinous acts they were told were legal, the other signaling that such acts must never again be condoned by the United States -- struck exactly the right balance.

The administration announced that it would not seek to press criminal charges against CIA operatives who participated in enhanced interrogations of terrorism suspects during the Bush administration. "It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement. [my emphasis]
Complete with the Orwellian
phrase "enhanced interrogations" (which the Post didn't put in quotation marks), I don't see any reasonable reading of those two paragraphs that wouldn't say they show the Post editors are more concerned about seeing "government agents who may [sic] have committed heinous acts" of torture getting a free pass from prosecution for their crimes than they are about ending the torture policy.

And even that reading is too generous. Because what the Post actually praises in those words just quoted are "signaling that such acts must never again be condoned by the United States". It adopts the let's-just-look-forward position that is the a key slogan of those defending torture, especially among the Democrats. And if we really want to give it a close reading, that opening comment doesn't go beyond praising the good public relations that Obama is practicing. And when you look at the PR they praise, it's the "signaling that such acts must never again be condoned by the United States" (my emphasis). Which is really not the same as admitting the grim reality: that such acts were not only condoned but systematically practiced by the US government at the direction of Cheney-Bush administration officials that not only knew that what they were doing was criminal but should be held responsible for their crimes.

We're talking about torture here! Did you even think back in 2000 before the Scalia Five handed the election to the losers Cheney and Bush that we would be seeing the I piously editorializing against prosecuting torturers? Did you expect defending torture to become a central value of the Republican Party?

It may be too much to hope that the Washington Post editorial board will ever recognize the magnitude of what's happened with the torture policy. But the rest of us had better recognize it. And we'd better recognized the central, indispensable role that "respectable" media institutions like the Washington Post played in what has happened.

I don't want to assume that all current advocates of a "truth commission" approach to investigating the torture policy and other criminal acts of the Cheney-Bush administration are all hoping for that to avoid the legal issues and produce a "bipartisan" feel-good report opposing holding the perpetrators of the torture policy legally accountable for their crimes. But that would almost certainly be the effect. And in the case of the Washington Post, given their record and what they say in this very editorial, I do assume that's what they want to see happen:

More light needs to be shed on how decisions were made and why. And more information is needed on who in the Bush administration made the ultimate decision to authorize the use of techniques that have long been considered torture and a violation of domestic and international legal strictures. A commission like the one that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks would likely provide the best vehicle for such an exploration. [my emphasis]
Refer it to a committee: the time-honored, classical bureaucratic move to make an issue just go away.

I know it sounds melodramatic at a moment where "respectable" opinion like that of the Washington Post can barely bring themselves to describe the criminal acts at issue as what the entire world knows very well they were, torture. But in all likelihood, the future of Constitutional democracy and the rule of law hangs on having the crimes involved in the torture policy prosecuted.

Because without that, the next Republican administration will almost certainly pick up right where Dick Cheney had to leave off. And the results will be even uglier than what we know up to this point about Cheney's results.

On last thought for now: If the torture policy is prosecuted as the law and our international treaty obligations require, part of what will inevitably be exposed is the shamefully lax attitude of major press outlets like the Washington Post that facilitated the torture policy. The Post editorial board wouldn't be entirely wrong in thinking its in their own self-interest to see the torture crimes swept under the historical rug as quickly as possible.

But this issue is too big and too serious. It's not going away.

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