Thursday, April 23, 2009

So It's Come to This

Torture has been in the news and much on my mind lately. Between the release of Department of Justice memos where the likes of John Yoo and Ninth Circuit Judge Jay Bybee do their best to avoid the obvious, the Senate Armed Services Committee report on our treatment of detainees oversees (personally approved by those in the White House), and apologists like Dick Cheney and Carl "Turd Blossom" Rove on the air every time you turn around, it's been hard to avoid. In fact, it's been so hard to avoid that I haven't been able to really figure out what to think about it.

OK, that's not quite true. I'm disgusted, as I always have been, with this sort of stuff. Law professor Peter Shane, a former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer, lays out his views at the American Constitution Society's Blog, with which I generally agree.

I'm less sure what to do about it now. Prosecutions? Maybe, but there are legal and political hurdles to doing that. Disbarment for the attorneys involved and the impeachment of Bybee? Easier to achieve (just tell the GOPers that Bybee is on the Ninth Circuit and they'll impeach him on general principle), but would require a more dispersed approach. I'd like to think, at least, that under Obama and Holder we won't do any of this shit again, but given what the new DoJ has done in current litigation, I'm skeptical.

Most distressing is that the New York Times can now run a piece that starts like this:

Even the most exacting truth commission may have a hard time determining for certain whether brutal interrogations conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency helped keep the country safe.

* * *

Senior Bush administration officials, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and cheered by many Congressional Republicans, are fighting a rear-guard action in defense of their record. Only by using the harshest methods, they insist, did the intelligence agency get the information it needed to round up Qaeda killers and save thousands of American lives.
So this is what we have become? We're not even debating whether procedure X is torture, we're just concerned with whether it works? As the vicious Captain Cartman would say, "the fuck?!"

To me, the question of whether torture works is in the same league with the issue of whether the death penalty actually deters criminals. It doesn't matter to me either way - some things are off limits, regardless of the utilitarian calculus. But we shouldn't hide out from the truth because of that. If torture works, we should know that. If the death penalty deters, we should know that. Moral choices, although based primarily on broader principles, still have to be seen in the light of reality. We've done ghastly things in the pursuit of absolute security. Let's at least have the guts to look at the results square in the face.

Some things a nation that wants to be considered as civilized just does not do. If we, as a nation, can't stand up and say, "no, this is wrong regardless of its utility" we might as well pack it in.

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