My Lai Or Yours?

There are several good reasons why a society such as ours might eschew endorsement of the use of torture.  It is notoriously poor at providing accurate informationIt irreparably damages our reputation as a force for civilizationIt invites similar retribution against our own people.

But the best reason we should renounce torture is that it unfits our torturers to return to society.  We ask our police, soldiers, and spies to test the bounds of decency and morality in the name of duty, and we are only partially successful at helping them reconcile their acts with their values.  We are no better at assimilating war criminals, nor should we aspire to be.

Unfortunately, the revelations coming out of Abu Ghraib won’t have the effect Bush opponents are hoping for.  Rumsfeld won’t resign, and even if he did, it wouldn’t matter; the policies that abetted these crimes won’t change without many more heads rolling.  More importantly, Bush won’t take much political damage.  Despite all the indignation and rending of garments, at the end of the day the only voters who have been permanently repulsed by these crimes are people who weren’t going to vote for Bush anyway.  Bush’s supporters have already condoned such "collateral damage" as the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqi civilians; why would they go wobbly over a few Mapplethorpe ripoffs?

I’m reminded of the West Wing episode where a Middle Eastern ambassador implies that exposing the President’s role in the assassination of an Arab politician would be politically embarrassing for the President.  Leo replies:

You think the President’s afraid that if he admitted complicity in Shareef’s death, he would lose votes in this country? To sweep all fifty states, the President would only need to do two things—blow the Sultan’s brains out in Times Square, then walk across the street to Nathan’s and buy a hot dog.
Far too many Americans have established—at whatever level of consciousness—a moral reciprocity between the horror of 9/11 and the horrors "incidentally" inflicted by our forces in Iraq.  This imbecility was given dumbfounding voice by Senator Lieberman on Thursday:

[The behavior of the Abu Ghraib guards] deserves the apology that [Secretary Rumsfeld has] given today and that have been given by others in high positions in our government and our military. I cannot help but say, however, that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized.
International law, American military regulations, and kindergarten-level ethics all proscribe torture.  Bush is therefore constrained from publicly stating otherwise.  But through his swaggering rhetoric, systemic contempt for the rule of law, and casual invocation of theological alienation, Bush has encouraged the dehumanization of any Iraqi that doesn’t 100% support the American occupation of their country.  Clearly, the Bush Administration would have preferred that the Abu Ghraib report and photos had been released differently, but that they were released at all doesn’t lose Bush anyone he hadn’t already lost and it wins him support among those who find justice in such images.  All that remains is to affect a little contrition:

People in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent. They must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know.
It might not be the America that George W. Bush knows, but if he is re-elected in November, it is the America that will be responsible.

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