On torture

I don’t know what’s worst about this: that the US engaged in torture, that we lied about its effectiveness, that we kept doing it once it became obvious it wasn’t effective, that once it came to light the public defended it, or now that we know just how bad it was we’re still arguing over whether we should even be talking about it.

We do know it happened. We know it got very bad. We know it was done poorly. We know that the people doing it wanted to stop. We know the people doing it didn’t think it was working.

A lot has been said about all of this. I’m kind of at a loss as to what to highlight. What’s the best response to this? What do we do now? I don’t know. One thing is glaringly obvious to me: we cannot continue to defend it. Over the years many people have tried to sweep it under the rug. Sometimes by saying it was necessary, or that we didn’t know enough about it, or that it wasn’t all that bad, sometimes by saying that it’s in the past and we need to move on. That needs to stop. The US did things that we cannot excuse. We have to face that fact. We have to do something about it.

But then what do we do? I don’t think we should look to the president. On the one hand, Obama deserves the criticism he’s getting for failing to act. He has been somewhere between complicit and actively involved in helping to hide and excuse these crimes. At the same time, I have to admit that he’s in an impossible situation. By his very existence he is already one of the most divisive presidents in history. For him to be the first president to attempt to charge a past administration with war crimes would have been a disaster. I don’t know what it would have looked like, but I’m confident it would have galvanized his opponents in support of the Bush era CIA, which likely would have been worse than where we are now. What he needs is this issue to have some significant bipartisan support before he joins in. This can’t be a fight.

Maybe that’s what’s most important here. The reaction to this has shown the same party line divide as any other political issue in the last many years. If there was ever going to be a line in the sand, a point at which everyone can set aside politics and say “this is wrong” I would expect it to be this. The CIA tortured its own informants. It literally tortured a man to death. If we can’t all agree that this was too much, that we went too far and need to do something about it, that it can never happen again, then how can anyone expect better of us? How can we?

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