Friday, May 01, 2009

A twisted Beltway Village notion of collective guilt

Michael Kinsley makes a "liberal" case for not prosecuting torture perpetrators in Where This Buck Stops Washington Post 05/01/09. His argument is - what's the closest to a polite word? - pernicious in several ways.

For one thing, it ignore the very serious legal issues at stake, including a very basic issue of the rule of law. His bottom line is that none of the people who actually broke the law in the torture program should be prosecuted for their crimes. In that, he's firmly in the near-unanimous consensus among the Beltway Villagers that under no circumstances should the torturers of the Cheney-Bush administration should be prosecuted. At this particular moment, I'm not sure that the rhetorical flourishes anyone uses to get to the let-the-torturers-go-scott-free position really matter.

Having said that, I am disturbed by the collective-guilt argument he makes. Despite the poor job he and his Village colleagues generally did on reporting the torture story during the Cheney-Bush years, and also ignoring the steadfast denials from the Cheney-Bush officials that the US government was torturing people, he assumes that American voters were essentially fully informed about the torture program from 2004 on. And because Bush was re-elected in 2004, all Americans are guilty of torture. It's an old rhetorical trick that shouldn't actually fool anyone over the age of 12: Everyone is guilty, so no one is guilty.

But he even gets very specific that he himself never really gave a s**t about the torture program. Writing about the 2004 Bush re-election, he says:

There is no way of knowing how many of those who voted against [John Kerry] were affected by the torture question. A good guess would be "not many." (Not me, for one, I'm sorry to say.) [my emphasis]
If you were from some other country and weren't familiar with the bizarre nature of our press corps, you might think that a celebrity pundit would be embarrassed to open display the fact that when it comes to public affairs, he has the moral compass of a pile of beached bones. But you would be wrong.

In any case, whatever ideological label one chooses to put on his collective guilt argument, the concept is as empty as Dick Cheney's conscience. People who commit crimes are guilty for those acts and should be held legally responsible. That's not a "liberal" or "conservative" concept. It's the basic idea of the rule of law.

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"It is the logic of our times
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