I blew a a big chunk of Friday evening reading the torture memos; probably not the kind of sunny-attitude stuff to start a weekend on. DJ L’il Bit had to drag me out of my melancholy. It was the kind of down you can only feel when you discover that it’s your country that is the bad guy on the Saturday morning cartoon. That said, I don’t feel bad that Obama’s done nothing so far.
If you haven’t read the “torture memos”:http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/olc_memos.html, I don’t honestly know if I can recommend them. Try the first one, maybe; it’s the shortest, and all of them are essentially about the same stuff — providing legal justification for a course of action already decided-upon.
Of course, that’s what a lot of the practice of law is: legally justifying a predetermined action. And, often, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that a responsible government would probably consider the question of torture at some length, after events such as 9/11 — I’m a big believer in not leaving questions unasked, even if you think you know the answer. But the answer to such a question should never be predetermined, as the answer to torture so clearly was.
The memos’ blatant nature certainly isn’t decreasing the cries for Obama to let loose the prosecutorial hounds. And, on its face, charging the torturers sounds like a good idea. When people act more like Cobra Commander than Colonel Hawk, you just know they’re un-American. But Obama has been nothing but pragmatic so far, and war crimes trials are anything but pragmatic. Gays in the military sounds reasonable enough too, but pursuing this policy basically killed Clinton’s first term. You pick: health care reform or war crimes trials?
And history shows that war crimes trials are polarizing; that’s why so many countries have turned away from them, favoring South Africa-style Truth and Reconciliation Commissions instead. These Commissions are charged with bringing to light what really happened; those who testify in front of them are typically given amnesty for what they testify to. The result is a full accounting of past misdeeds and, hopefully, a chance to learn from what happened. If the Democrats get together with the Libertarian wing of the Republicans, such a thing could happen.
(Hopefully, the Jane Harman thing will swing the pendulum back towards Libertarianism, for lawmakers at least.)
That just brings us full circle — back to the compromises made in the name of “security” during the last eight years. One thing that the memos do drive home is that our use of torture had nothing to do with security. I had no idea that we had actually used SERE as our *model* for interrogation techniques. That decision was ironic to say the least, since it turns out “SERE was designed to help our servicemen learn how to deal with torture”:http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10133 designed not to ferret out real information but, instead, to elicit _patently false_ confessions _for propaganda purposes_. Of course, if torture were an effective way to get out information about imminent terrorist attacks, then it would be a standard tool in the arsenal of law enforcement in Britain, which faced the IRA threat, and Spain, which is currently struggling with ETA. You’ll note that neither country was a prime receiver of exported terrorist talent thanks to our policy of extraordinary rendition, despite their decades-long fight against terrorists who slaughter innocents.
But, yet, the Bush administration opted for torture. And maybe that explains something that’s been nagging me — the intense dislike the Right has developed for subject matter experts over the last eight years. It just turns out that they have really incompetent subject matter experts on their side. Heck, if the subject matter experts I tend to look to were this incapable of basic analysis, I’d be suspicious too.