Friday, May 13, 2011


Spencer Ackerman was right on the money yesterday, calling for a revival of the 9/11 Commission to document the hunt for bin Laden. Marcy Wheeler agrees. So does Andrew Sullivan. And Adam Serwer. Each of them adds interesting recommendations about the scope of what the commission should look at.

My contribution is to remind everyone what nonpartisan, specially appointed commissions are good for. Two things: they're good at giving cover to something that politicians want to do (or not do) but don't want the credit or blame for; and, they can be good at fact-finding.

So don't expect much in the way of policy breakthroughs, unfortunately. Right now, I'm not aware of any policy that everyone (meaning, basically, majorities large enough to pass something and sign in into law) wants to enact but is scared of doing. That may have been the case during the 111th Congress, but as of now I highly doubt that 60 Senators and 218 Members of the House would vote for sensible detention and counterterrorism measures even if they had full political cover to do so.

No, right now what's needed is establishing the truth. The target audience? Washingtonians, including many in the working press and some key players in both parties, who like to think of themselves as tough-minded and sophisticated, and are tempted to believe that the anti-torture crowd is simply naive about the Way the World Works. That, in my opinion at least, isn't a terrible instinct -- but I'm fairly confident that it just leads in the wrong direction with regard to torture, the capacity of the regular courts, and several other Cheneyite activities.

Or maybe not. We need to know that, too.

One thing, though. Ackerman's suggestion to get the facts on the table is spreading rapidly among those who believe that torture was unlikely to have been helpful in the hunt for bin Laden. Anyone from the pro-torture side looking to document the truth?

I didn't think so.

For my earlier thoughts on this, see here and here.


  1. As Andrew Sullivan points out, some of the most prominent pro-torture people making their case in the media have been the people who implemented the torture policy. So they have a vested interest in not displaying all of the facts. Though realistically its not like the Obama administration has the courage to prosecute any of them.

    So really its just about not taking a shot in the ideological gut by having the facts prove you wrong. Though again, its not like facts are something these people adhere to anyway.

    So really this is James Madison's fault. As is everything in America politics. ;)

  2. I don't support torture, but it's simply not accurate to suggest that it's at all convenient that most pro-torture advocates don't want the facts to come out. Even people who support torture are usually sensible enough to realize that nobody wants to have to hear about it, or look at it. You might as well say pro-choice advocates are the same for not wanting pictures of aborted fetuses floating around. In both cases the position in question is one that the holder (generally speaking) thinks is ugly but necessary. Toss in the fact that most believe there is a strategic military element involved in not making the limitations of our interrogation efforts public, and it's a perfectly consistent position.

    There are plenty of legitimate ways to make a case against torture. But I'm not sure accusing torture proponents of being even mildly savvy about the political import of releasing such details is one of them.


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