Listening to the television this week, I was horrified to hear the various arguments against investigating Bush administration officials who authorized torture techniques. “It would only become a partisan free-for-all.” “Why go after them when they were merely trying to provide for the nation’s security?” “It would only distract us from the economy.” And the worst of all came from Mr. Cheney himself, like a burst of stale air from a crypt: “We were able to gather good information.”
“My God!” I shouted at the screen. “That’s it! There it is! Right there!” In the mind of Dick Cheney and his fellow neo-cons, the ends always justify the means. And of course their justification is an attempt to implicate the rest of us as well: i.e., “We did it to make you safe.”
Of course, providing for the common defense is the first duty of any government. But anyone versed in interrogation knows that information extracted through torture is highly unreliable. So what if they happened to get lucky? Do we want this country to be known as the Land of the Free and the Home of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques? Would you want your son to be treated that way if he were captured by an enemy? That is essentially what we are saying to the world. “It’s okay to commit any crime against humanity as long as it makes you secure.” Hitler’s henchmen are smiling right now.
But ironically, torture has not made the U.S. more secure. In fact, it has become a rallying point for Islamic extremists the world over, justifying their jihad against the Great Satan. And what’s more, they have won a key victory if they have made us compromise our sacred principles and the rule of law in the name of national security.
But let’s be charitable for a moment. It must have been frighteningly tense in Washington those first several months after 9-11. Nearly three thousand people had lost their lives. The White House itself was almost attacked, and no one knew where the next strike would come from. Authorizing torture may have seemed like Hobson’s choice. People can do almost anything out of fear. Unfortunately, what they chose was neither morally right nor in the nation’s best interest. A painful legacy that we must now sort through—unless, as many politicians are advising us, we just kick some sand over it and move on. But there is not enough sand or litter-box perfume to bury this mess, not forever.
But why are we talking about stringing up lawyers or CIA officials? These are but sheep. We know who the real culprits are. But if we’ve learned anything about Washington over the past few years, it’s this: 1) only little people pay taxes; and 2) the higher you go in leadership, the more you are above the law. Where’s Steven Seagal when you need him?