Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sad News on Torture

I haven't yet commented on George W. Bush's remarks on torture this past week, because I can't really find much to say but how sad it is, at least for those who don't want to see torture eventually emerging as explicit American policy.  In other words, I agree completely with Andrew Sullivan:
To place the full weight of the presidency behind war crimes is sign of where this country is...This remains a live issue. A future Republican president will almost certainly now embrace torture as integral to American values and law.
I will disagree with Sullivan on one thing.  He refers to his own attempt to convince Bush to repudiate torture as "sad," by which I guess he means hopeless, or sadly naive.  I disagree.  Sullivan's open letter to Bush was, in my view, noble -- an honest attempt to engage with a president who was as apt to say "we don't torture" as he was to authorize torture.  If you haven't read Sullivan's letter, you really should.  I believed, as Sullivan I think believed, that Bush meant it, both ways, and that it was at least possible that on reflection the "we do not torture" side would win out.  That's why I've advocated pardon-plus-commission; I think that it's very possible that quite a few people involved may believe that torture was a mistake, but that they'll never say that publicly as long as they, or the people they worked with, could go to jail.

But Bush, at least, doesn't seem to be headed in the "we do not torture" direction.  And I do think that without him, it would be very difficult to move the Republican Party on this issue.  The only other hope is that an explicitly pro-torture presidential candidate gets clobbered -- which certainly is a plausible scenario  in 2012 -- but even then, it's more likely that the Rush Limbaughs and Marc Thiessens of the world would interpret such an event as a sign that the candidate wasn't sufficiently strident on the issue.  There are to be sure quite a few conservatives who oppose torture, but fewer and fewer of them are candidates for elective office.  Barring something new (and Bush could still flip, after all), I think a pro-torture candidate and platform is virtually certain for the GOP in 2012. And we know how the nomination process works (in both parties): candidates who are in reality basically similar in their positions on public policy are driven to differentiate themselves by taking high-profile extreme positions on symbolic, highly visible issues. 


  1. Sullivan's letter to Bush was eloquent and heartfelt. I suspect sad is what he is feeling as it becomes clear GWB has no kernel of decency to which one can appeal.

    Sullivan's earlier misplaced confidence in Bush and Cheney is also sad, sad because a loss of respect and confidence is a loss worth mourning.

    I agree the letter was not sad, but sadness is a proper response to the loss of a last hope that GWB would in the end distinguish himself and prevent our recent descent into torture from becoming an established partisan issue.

  2. It has been clear, crystal clear, that George W Bush has no kernel of decency to which one can appeal ever since his days as Governor of Texas. Anyone who watched how very much he relished the life and death power he held over prisoners on Texas' Death Row knew that elevating this despicable, sadistic man to greater power would come to no good. Anyone who noticed his complete indifference to the legal process and laws governing his state and the United States should not be surprised now that we see that the man has not a shred of decency nor respect for our foundation of government, and he never has.

    And too, I have a hard time believing that any thinking conservative did not know this about him going in.

    What say, Jonathan, about Bush's performance as Governor? Didn't that inform his future as a rogue President?

  3. I rather like Sullivan - from what I have seen, he is a person of integrity. I cannot force myself to wade through his letter, though. Sullivan has a way of getting things profoundly, and at times, inexplicably wrong, and there is so much wrongitude in his first few paragraphs.

    I also agree with the guiding principle of the war you proclaimed from the start: that expanding democracy and human rights is indispensable in the long-term fight against jihadism. And I believe, as you do, that a foreign policy that does not understand the universal yearning for individual freedom and dignity is not a recognizably American foreign policy.

    This is a fatuous blend of naivety and right wing bull. They fight us in the middle-east because the west has been mucking with them for a thousand years, and with particular greed and malice since Churchill invented the make-believe country of Iraq in the mid-20's with a line drawn on a map.

    tom, above, is right. This is sad. Seems like James nailed it as well. If torture becomes official and accepted U. S. policy it is the end of whatever idea America might have once had.

    I am deeply disgusted that this issue can even be seriously discussed.

    Lo siento,

  4. JzB, disgust and sadness both seem appropriate. Our nation was tarnished by slavery, and following that a century of racial apartheid. The civil rights movement washed away some of the stain, but want do we do?. Too much goodness, I guess. As a nation we have our virtues, being humane is not prominent among them.

  5. If it meant saving thousands, hundreds, or even a few people's lives, I would have no problem torturing a known terrorist, preferably on pay-per-view so as to discourage future misbehavior and pay down the deficit in the process; my argument is consequentialist: people being tortured will say whatever it takes to stop being tortured; their confessions are notoriously unreliable, and relying on their information gives them the opportunity to deceive us! Furthermore, torturing people turns off our allies and neutral parties from supporting what would otherwise be the clear "good guy". Finally, the idea that we've probably tortured innocent people is inexcusable and destined to create more problems in the long-run.


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