While the debate had mostly concerned whether the Bush administration did indeed torture, there is now widespread agreement that waterboarding, sensory deprivation and other interrogation techniques used at CIA black sites, Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay were torture in every sense of the word.
The debate now concerns whether that torture was justified, whether it saved the many lives that its advocates claim, and whether there should be an investigation to learn the full story and determine whether anyone should be held responsible. Then there is President Obama's decision to fight a court order to release more photos of torture at Abu Ghraib.
Herewith some voices in the debate, including my own:
Digby at Hullabaloo:
The argument against torture is slipping away from us. In fact, I'm getting the sinking feeling that it's over. What was once taboo is now publicly acknowledged as completely acceptable by many people. Indeed, disapproval of torture is now being characterized as a strictly partisan issue, like welfare reform or taxes.Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic:
I think our politicians failed us. But it's weak to put it on them. I think journalists failed us. But it's weak to put it on them. We have too much faith in our innate goodness, in our exceptionalism. And if there's one big failing of Barack Obama it's that he continues to sell us on this notion that we're special. Maybe that's how it has to be. I'm admittedly confused by all this. I just suspect that someday soon we're going to find out how "special" we really are.Will Bunch at Attytood:
We really have no idea how low we can really go. And when confronted with evidence of it, we obfuscate. As a black man living in this country, I should have known better. It all makes too much sense.
Almost every flaw of our craft has been on display in the last week or two -- the pleading for a middle-of-the-road answer to a problem where there is no middle ground, the phony "he said, she said" journalism that gives a 50 percent voice to the advocates of American-bred torture, the use of unnecessary anonymous quotes to defend the indefensible, the need for an elite inside-the-Beltway clique to circle the wagons, to insist that aggressive prosecution is only for the crimes that 'regular people' commit.
What a shame. Although it is tragic that we must be talking about something like torture in the United States of America in 2009, this issue does offer modern journalism a chance to do something we have not done in at least a generation -- and that is to provide this nation, our readers and viewers, with moral clarity and leadership. There is still time to show that we've learned something from the fiasco of pre-Iraq war journalism, when a lack of aggressive reporting and a kowtowing to authority made us a co-conspirator in one major step into the abyss, when we launched a "pre-emptive war" against a nation not capable of attacking us. Now, there is no reason why every journalistic voice in this country can say it as simply as Fox News Channel's Shepherd Smith, that "we are American, we do not (expletive deleted) torture." Why not? I don't know any journalist who thinks there are two sides to freedom of the press, so why should freedom from torture be any different?
Dan Balz in The Washington Post:
BooMan at the Booman Tribune:
Today [Dick] Cheney is the most visible -- and controversial -- critic of President Obama's national security policies and, to the alarm of many people in the Republican Party, the most forceful and uncompromising defender of the Bush administration's record. His running argument with the new administration has spawned a noisy side debate all its own: By leading the criticism, is Cheney doing more harm than good to the causes he has taken up and to the political well-being of his party?
His defenders believe he has sparked a discussion of vital importance to the safety of the country, and they hold up Obama's reversal of a decision to release photos of detainee abuse as a sign that Cheney is having an effect. But there is a potential political price that his party may pay in having one of the highest officials in an administration repudiated in the last election continue to argue his case long after the voters have rendered their decision.
If this decision[on the Abu Ghraib photos] were isolated, I probably would agree with it. My concern is with the precedent it might set if the administration wins their case. We simply can't set up a system where national security can be invoked anytime our nation engages in shameful and/or illegal behavior. . . . Therefore, despite having a lot of sympathy for the tough choice involved here, I think this is a mistake by the Obama administration. I do not want to put any troops in unnecessary danger, but I also don't want to do damage to our legal system and see the government gain more power to conceal its crimes.Karl Rove on Fox News:
Taking, for example, the memoranda about the enhanced interrogation techniques and making them public has been a value to our enemy. It has served, frankly, I think, as a recruiting tool. They can now take these memoranda and go to prospective, you know, recruits and say, This is the worst that the enemy, the United States, would ever do to you, and they've even forsworn these things. We can help you, prepare you to deal with these things, but even the enemy is so weak they’re not going to use these techniques on you. And it's given them a tool to make it more attractive to recruit people, and you know, this kind of thing is harmful to us over the long haul.A National Guard colonel on why torture is never acceptable:
It is difficult to explain to young (practically) kids, with little experience, and poor knowledge of the world . . . but if you are caring and committed, and repeat yourself often enough they learn and understand. I told them the most important thing they needed to take away from all their preparations [for Iraq] was that while it would be terrible to lose one of them or have one of them seriously physically injured, it would be worse to have them come home physically well and mentally broken because they had somehow lost their humanity. Torture destroys our humanity, and any equivocation . . . on the matter is just bullshit.Andy McCarthy at National Review Online:
Obama doesn't have the political nerve to end the war. But he is slowly (or, as he'd no doubt put it, pragmatically) strangling the war effort. A critical part of the antiwar project is to make Americans feel ashamed of defending ourselves, inducing us to accept the European view that actions taken in our defense -- even those that have protected us from additional jihadist strikes -- tarnish our image, stir our enemies, and put us in grave danger. Better to go back to seeing terrorism as a law-enforcement concern, this theory holds, and accept the occasional terrorist strike as a cost of managing, rather than fighting, this scourge. What we lose in dead Americans, the argument goes, will be more than compensated for in increased international prestige -- if not for the United States, at least for Barack Obama.Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings:
I do not think that we ought to fail to prosecute Bush officials because it would be divisive -- I think that upholding the rule of law is more important than avoiding divisiveness, and besides, since any prosecution of high administration officials is always divisive, this principle would seem to me to imply that no high official should ever be punished for breaking any law. I think this would be disastrous. I also hate the idea of a double standard for the powerful and the powerlessFinally, and to my great regret, my own view at this point mirrors Digby's above: Partisanship, as it has been with so many things, will be the death of a genuine torture debate and the actions that must flow from it. The ability to conduct such a debate is a hallmark of a healthy and vigorous democracy, but America's is neither at this juncture.
Most of the blame for that rests with the Bush administration and inextricably leads to why Barack Obama, whose advocacy for changing the culture of Washington through transparency and openness helped propel him to the presidency, has gone soft on the torture issue, notably his refusal to sanction a 9/11-type commission or other investigative body, as well as hewing to the discredited Bush line in some other instances.
Perhaps Obama the candidate was playing his liberal base for fools. But what I believe has happened is that Obama the president understands that repairing the damage he inherited from his predecessor is more important than holding administration bigs accountable for the torture regime at the present time. This is because to do otherwise would drive partisan rancor to deafening levels and threaten his enormously ambitious -- and vitally necessary -- policy agenda.
While conservatives specifically and Republicans generally share much of the responsibility for this rancor, the hands of liberals and Democrats are anything but clean, just not blood soaked as are those of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez and loyalists who professed to love America but instead did it incalculable harm.